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28 Weeks Later

Though in hindsight, 28 Days Later may not have actually "revived" the zombie genre, it did at least start a good argument with the Dawn of the Dead remake. Unlike most zombie films, it also posited a chillingly plausible reason for the apocalypse - that pesky "Rage" virus.

The problem facing a sequel is one of the elements that made the first film so tidy. Like a lot of real-world deadly viruses, if you can effectively quarantine it, it can't outlive its host. Though it took four screenwriters (four? Really?) to work around that point for 28 Weeks Later, it ends up the most satisfying element of the sequel. The rest of this film looks like a bunch of college kids got together and tried to ape the first without paying attention to tiny details like plot.

Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo actually starts somewhere about 28 days earlier, with a group of survivors hiding in a farmhouse. Focusing on a middle-class couple, a little bit of exposition establishes children sent away on a school trip just before the virus hit, and that these two, played by Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack, are very much in love.

Then the infected find the farmhouse.

Without giving anyone much time to think, the movie puts Carlyle in the position of coward. He scarcely has time to look over his shoulder to see if his beloved wife gets eaten or not, so desperate is he to hit the river and escape. But 28 weeks later…

By virtue of having survived, perhaps, Carlyle's character Don is a caretaker of the military complex meant to rebuild and repopulate London. Convenient, then, that his children can return when apparently no others are allowed. This is a momentary plot point brought up by army doctor Scarlet (Rose Byrne), that Don's son Andy is the youngest person in London. To which Andy replies that he got his two-toned eyes from his mom -- as you may guess this is a plot point, rock fans may be relieved to know that this means David Bowie will lead us to safety in case of a Rage disaster.

Why wouldn't the military want children in the city? It soon becomes obvious because children always, ALWAYS topple the first domino of stupidity required to make a horror movie plot work. We could have hoped that they would also trigger a strong wave of guilt in Don, who lies to them about their mother's fate. The script, however, just isn't strong enough to develop that guilt into anything resembling a theme or a character arc.

Unless you count that it changes the rules. In the first film, the infected had two basic states - rest and rage. Both were essentially mindless, hence the ability for someone to just hide and wait until they starved. Here, in order to keep this little more than a twisted family drama, the infected can recognize dangers (unless it's bullets) and cleverly hide themselves away. All the better for a red-eyed Don to stalk his children and show up at inopportune moments.

Maybe 28 Weeks Later wants to demonstrate how monstrous a family's love can be. Perhaps Don's guilt over abandoning his wife is so great that he refuses to abandon his children, even if that means turning them into murderous horrors. Or perhaps, unlike 28 Days Later, there really isn't some underlying theme; it's just scary for kids to think their dad is going to kill them.

Better he should kill himself, but from the beginning, at least, the screenwriters establish that Don has a strong survival instinct, and he will lie and weasel his way out of anything. It's an interesting trait that is nothing more than a straw man, thrown away in the pursuit of scaring the audience. 28 Weeks Later has no point other than to make money, and its set-up of a third film makes just one more instance of characters behaving stupidly in order to make the creaky machine of the plot go.

It is still scary, in that helpless feeling of never quite being able to focus on what's going on as people die. Though Fresnadillo still uses the handheld DV camera, this movie has lost that voyeuristic feel of the first. It's just by the numbers.


Derek McCaw

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