Growing up with a dusty old VCR, it’s well-known within my circle of friends that my favorite movie genre of all time is horror. Specifically zombie horror. I won’t go into a pointless history of Romero versus Fulci facts, nor will I bore you with my personal feelings toward the resurrection (pun intended, I assure you) of the modern zombie film. A small fantasy I’ve always harbored was to find myself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, as the movies always seemed like such adventures, more interesting to me than any western or space opera. With the advent of better videogame technology came the Resident Evil series (in particular the second) and confirmed this fantasy. Now the unexpectedly excellent 28 Weeks Later has removed it.
What we have here is a film that delivers on the promise of an absolutely terrifying zombie vision, even surpassing the original in many ways. I say that now, because the creatures in 28 Weeks Later have somehow transformed from the psychotic rage victims of the first film into something more zombie-like than ever before. Rather than just huddling around victims, we seem them feed, lash out, and vomit on their victims. It’s entirely brutal, without being exploitative or over-the-top. There’s very little humor to help us along, and the body count has never been higher.
The first film was something of an experiment for original director Danny Boyle, having crafted his apocalyptic nightmare with the most inexpensive equipment imaginable. This gave the film a very intentional low-budget feel, allowing for a complete re-invention of the genre from the ground up and signaled that zombies were back in fashion. This sequel is entirely big-budget, less personal yet still intimate. Most of the budget was probably spent on the film’s few destructive scenes, some of the most terrifyingly realistic bombing raids I’ve ever seen in a movie. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “This is how it all ends”. I’m still wondering what I was referring to…
I’ve never heard of director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo before, but the man has talent. Boyle’s gone onto far different things, but this guy has a talent for the extreme (minus some shaky camera hi-jinks down below). The writer’s for this installment have crafted a plot-line that’s entirely plausible (if not more than a little convenient). With the death of the last infected having died months prior, a coalition of the willing (shades of the Iraqi Conflict abound if that’s your thing) implement their plan to repopulate Britain. Led by a heavily armed US military force, survivors are led into designated containment areas throughout what appears to be London, equipped with just about every comfort from life before the outbreak. But we all know this stability is just temporary, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie.
When it’s discovered a particular survivor carriers a strain of the rage virus, but doesn’t succumb to its terrors, things heat up. I won’t reveal who, why, or how…but much like the omnipresent main rage-victim/zombie, it’s quite a convenient way to tie up several loose ends at once, managing to drive things forward from suspense into action. But when the set pieces, situations and bloodbaths are this good, you probably won’t care much about any under-developed plots of familial relationships. Poots in particular is poised to be something, as she’s simply an incredible beauty and such an interesting actress…almost as if a Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightly rolled into one (finally, a pleasant thought!).
As none of the cast or characters from the first film return (how could they?), the new cast endear themselves right away. Robert Carlyle is certainly the biggest name star here, and does excels in a role that requires much more depth than you might think. While most of the remaining cast is adequate in their roles, it’s the two young stars that steal the show. 12-year old Any (played by Mackintosh Muggleton…yes, you read that right) and the destructively beautiful Imogeen Poots (another tragic name…) are completely convincing and put through both emotional and physical hell. All told, much better acting than your typical horror film, let alone an action-packed sequel.
I’ve read a few online reviews for this movie, contrasting it to the first film as one would contrast the first Alien to its sequel Aliens…to which I’d call alarmingly appropriate. Where the first movie was genuinely terrifying, with suspense carved out of claustrophobic isolation, the second discards such conventions for full-throttle action and gore. That’s not to say it isn’t scary, because it is. Oh mama is it scary, at some points even managing to out-terror the first film. This is the aftermath zombie epic that even Romero’s own Land of the Dead never was, in which a frightening realistic future is built
While I generally liked what I saw, I must admit that that the director’s tendency to use the patented Jason Bourne Shaky Cam, especially during certain scenes, did become more than annoying. In fact, at one particular part (and I won’t say where…you’ll know) the shaking became so bad I couldn’t see what was going on, and I REALLY wanted to see what was happening! I wanted to grab the screen, just reach out and stop this cinematic epileptic fit the movie was having. I’m not sure why most directors insist on flipping and switching the action so fast these days, especially in a horror film. It just doesn’t look or feel as natural as it should, and very distracting. On the plus side, one scene in particular is the best use of helicopter chop-suey this year (yes, there’s been more than one!).
Small qualms aside, I found 28 Weeks Later immensely satisfying, and surprisingly one of the better “true” horror films I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in a theater. It continues the thematic arc and tension the first film delivered, yet manages to up the gore and action levels without being distracting. A special nod to the soundtrack, as composed by John Murphy provides the most direct link to the first film (Murphy also composed the first). In all honesty I wasn’t looking forward to seeing this sequel that much, let alone enjoying it. I walked out stunned, convinced there’s plenty of life left for flesh-eaters.
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