Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, “28 Weeks Later” (2007)
On paper it looked like a good idea: a sequel to the original zombies-on-the-run flick “28 Days Later” by Danny Boyle – but “28 Weeks Later” turns out to be more Swiss-cheese in plot and character development than the monsters themselves can make of their victims. Supposedly an exercise in forcing viewers to experience vicariously London as a deserted city in lockdown after an experiment in rehabilitating its refugees goes awry and the returnees are abandoned in a virtual prison, the film descends into cliche and a tatty plot in which two children, a soldier, a scientist and a few others play survivor against a horde of zombies and trigger-happy US soldiers.
Two kids, Andy and Tammy (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots), are among the survivors of the first zombie outbreak caused by a mysterious virus called Rage. The survivors are taken away from Britain and the entire island, caught up in the mass zombie contagion, has had to be sealed off from the rest of the world, purged of its infected people, made squeaky-clean and off-limits to human penetration for six months. A few tears may have been shed for the loss of whatever passed for modern British culture before the Rage virus took over; the Russians are probably upset that there is no longer an educated enemy spy agency to match wits against but apart from that, few are sad to see the culture and society that produced Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and David Cameron snuffed out. The Americans decide to allow a few hundred refugees to return to London, Andy and Tammy among them. They are reunited with Dad (Robert Carlyle) and almost immediately the three fall into trouble: the kids discover their lost mum (Catherine McCormack) who is infected with the zombie virus but hasn’t undergone the transformation to rabid brute. The Americans pick her up and install her under supposedly tight security in a medical facility and put the children under close observation. Dad however sneaks into Mum’s supposedly sealed room and ends up infected with the zombie virus; mayhem ensues and Andy and Tammy once again find themselves on the run, befriended by a scientist (Rose Byrne) and US soldier Doyle (Jeremy Renner) as they try to avoid being shot down by the US Army or chewed over by Dad’s army of frenzied fiends.
The film depends a great deal on dark shadows and night scenes that can be shot in infra-red camera so that viewers don’t see the straining seams that barely keep the story together. The plot depends on people doing the most gobsmacking idiotic things: the US Army commander (Idris Elba) fails to keep the children’s mother under strict surveillance, enabling the father to gain unhindered access to her room; the father himself kisses her and she bites him for betraying her in the film’s opening scenes and leaving her exposed to the zombie threat; Andy wanders off and gets lost much of the time; and American soldiers are ordered to try to shoot zombies milling in a crowd of panicking people from afar! Characters are stereotyped or act in ways inconsistent with what they’re supposed to be: Andy sometimes is brave and resourceful but is also incredibly stupid when the plot goes flat and a nail-biting scene of suspense and terror is called for; Tammy either hyperventilates or screams for much of the film’s second half but stays amazingly calm for the climactic scene (because, hey, the film is PC so it allows girls to kill!); and the soldier Doyle plays heroic and self-sacrificing in a spectacular fiery scene.
The handheld camera technique becomes tiresome in a film of this nature: critical scenes become merely blurry and when one scene of pointless gore follows another, the jumpy film ends up playing a curiously censorious role – viewers have little idea of how much blood is actually split when the camera is bouncing everywhere.
If there is a theme, it’s weakly developed: the Americans should have been portrayed as more cynical in allowing a resettlement experiment to proceed with the refugees as obvious guinea pigs; the US Army is merely brutal but the film should also have shown Elba’s character and others as panicky and incompetent at controlling the experiment and containing the new zombie outbreak. There could have been a sub-plot involving the cynical use of Andy and Tammy as guinea pigs in another bizarre science experiment involving the development of a vaccine for the Rage virus but this would have been beyond whatever little intelligence the plot possesses.
Worst of all, the film paves the way for a second pointless sequel which will take place in Paris in France. Now we really have to cry over the loss of what passes for modern Parisian culture – or celebrate more like, come to think of it.