28 Weeks Later

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The opening sequence of 28 Weeks Later — call it an opening salvo — is utterly ferocious. Proceedings start quietly, but this is a sequel to the apocalyptic 28 Days Later, and, as in any zombie movie, peace is only the prelude to a storm of blood and viscera. It starts with a woman trying to cook a meal, in the dark, as photographic evidence of the world that used to exist distracts her from the task. She’s part of a cobbled-together family living in a cottage, isolated, in the London countryside. Though the house is dark, it’s daylight outside — the windows have been tightly boarded against the sunshine and the possibility of unwanted visitors.


When the zombies invade, the picture explodes spectacularly. If you saw the previous film, you know these are “rage zombies.” Rage zombies are strong and ferocious. If you’re bitten by a rage zombie, it takes only a few seconds (rather than the minutes or hours that can transpire before re-animation occurs in a George Romero zombie film) for the infection to take hold of your brain. And if you’re being chased by a rage zombie, well, move fast, because these monsters are sprinters. As a longtime zombie fan, I’ve been something of a slow-zombie purist, preferring the ominous shambling rot of an old-school zombie picnic to the amped-up, ecstasy-fueled rave parties made popular by 28 Days Later and the clearly 28 Days-inspired Dawn of the Dead remake. But this shit is effective — edited with fast-moving, assaultive cuts, shot with the shutter angle cranked so that every terrified face registers only in an abstracted series of staccato frames flashing across the darkness, and given a pounding sound mix that, in a loud theater, works your ears like a meat tenderizer.

But the big difference between this sequence and the kind of explosive, in-your-face horror in which films like Resident Evil traffic, is that director and co-writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is using the action not just to grab the audience in the opening reel, but to establish character and set the story in motion. The sense of despair engendered by that section of the film sticks around, and it isn’t just a function of the images of death and mayhem. It’s more about the look on the face of Don (Robert Carlyle) when the fight is over, and his eyes reveal desperation, determination, and shame in equal measure that will resonate throughout the film. When he hooks up with his children Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots) months later, he’s got a lot of explaining to do.

Just as Don’s family is trying to rebuild, a nation-building force has arrived on the scene to prep an empty London for repopulation. Images of the U.S. military as an occupying force, specifying the boundaries of a so-called “green zone” where civilians can move about freely, have obvious political currency. Talk about a war on terror — chaotic scenes where soldiers are instructed to open fire on ordinary men and women in an effort to exterminate the infected are excruciatingly potent, especially as Fresnadillo’s narrative expands to include one soldier who defies the kill order. The stakes are raised so skillfully from scene to scene that the climactic conflagration that hits about two-thirds of the way through is all shock and awe, dramatizing the ruthless haplessness of an army escalating the horror as it watches its own mission spiral disastrously out of control.

Visually, too, Fresnadillo delivers the goods. This film looks many times better than its predecessor, which was made using, essentially, a consumer-grade DV camera. Shot on film and color-corrected digitally, 28 Weeks Later has a spooky fixation on eyes and vision, or the lack of it. You can tell a man has been infected partly by the dramatic discoloration of his eyes (also, of course, by the way he chews on your arm); one character, in apparent homage to a very similarly staged scene in Blade Runner, gouges out the eyes of another whose imploring gaze haunts him still; rooftop-stationed soldiers use their infrared rifle scopes to scan the windows of green-zone apartments in search of comedy and/or nookie. A night-vision scene late in the film showing a green-faced Tammy staring out of the dark, wide-eyed and near tears as she tries to navigate the piles of corpses in the London Underground, is especially haunting.

And the series of set pieces that make up the film’s second half is unrelenting, with the action ramping up from one unpleasant scenario to the next. It’s Fresnadillo’s mercilessness that helps keep what becomes the film’s core storyline — two kids, on the run, who may or may not hold the key to humankind’s salvation — from verging on cuteness. 28 Weeks Later may be about a family, but it’s a family whose members hold a mean grudge — and may or may not be bitten, bludgeoned, or firebombed out of existence at any given moment. It’s not often remarked on that the best horror movies are among the most sensitive to human feelings — and by just about any reckoning, 28 Weeks Later is all about the 21st-century human condition. It’s punishing and exciting and ferociously intelligent in equal measure. It’s the best zombie picture in God knows how long, and the finest English-language horror movie in too many years. A-

In a Similar Vein (related by tags)

  • http://djardine.blogspot.com Dan Jardine

    Well, I finally got around to seeing this and, hell yeah, this one really does put to rest the notion that zombies must be slow-footed and addle-headed. One of those rare sequels that exceeds the original, 28 Weeks Later delivers not just at the visceral level, but also the emotional and even intellectual. As you noted, the political parallels to Iraq and the war on terror are inescapable, and it is one of the aspects of the film that elevate it above your common variety zombie flick. Romero used the same night vision filters to make similar comments in Land of the Dead, but I found the moral quandaries faced by the soldiers even more profound and devastating in 28WL.

    And speaking of influences, am I the only one who got a Blair Witch vibe with many of the night-time sequences, particularly those terrifying moments in the tunnel with Tammy? Jesus, I still get night sweats over the last sequence of the BWP, so I must say I found this material damned riveting.

    The best film of the year so far.

  • http://www.deep-focus.com Bryant Frazer

    Hi, Dan. Glad you enjoyed the scary movie. My wife was decidedly unimpressed — but she’s kind of a Romero-zombie purist. I was hooked from the opening sequence, which seemed to me to be swinging for the fences. The film’s narrative isn’t perfect — there’s not always a lot of character motivation, and it relies a whole lot on coincidence to bring its family of characters together at the proper times — but it’s just so chilling, and fairly despairing, from top to bottom that I was riveted until the end.

    Found this observational gem the other day buried inside one of Matt Zoller Seitz’s comments at The House Next Door: We’re all going to die eventually, but we’ll probably die sooner in a zombie movie. God is almost certainly nonexistent, or he has a sick sense of humor. So why be decent? “28 Weeks Later” is filled with images of people doing the right thing and being killed almost immediately. But not for a second does the film suggest they should have behaved selfishly. The subtext is, doing the right thing is its own reward, and observance of the golden rule, especially when it costs us personally, is what truly makes us human.

    Of course I notice that you, Dan, are in that thread as well. There’s also an interesting House Next Door defense of Pirates 3 by Ryland Walker Knight. It’s an exercise in close reading and contrarianism that puzzled me greatly until I clicked over to Knight’s site and learned that he’s operating under the influence of Stanley Cavell.

    I like Stanley Cavell too. But also he drives me crazy. This is why I could never, ever cut it as a film academic. But I reject Knight’s reading of the film in part because he finds so much to marvel at in terms of narrative, while I thought the storyline was the least interesting and most fucked-up part of the whole Pirates of the Caribbean enterprise. I liked certain scenes, including the upside-down ocean and especially Jack Sparrow’s tour-de-force desert hallucination, but the script made me sleepy.

    Seitz himself does terrific close readings of Sopranos episodes. They’re so good, I think I’ll miss them as much as the show when it’s all over. This TV stuff. It’s good. Do you get The Sopranos up in Canada at the same time it airs down here?

    Oh — forgot to explain why I suddenly brought up Pirates 3. Sitting in the theater, I actually got the chills during that ominous opening sequence — specifically when the herald, or whatever he was, announces that habeas corpus has been suspended in the interests of hunting down and killing as many pirates as possible. Could we possibly, I wondered, be in for another fantastical war-on-terror allegory? The answer turned out to be “Nah,” since the movie never really makes anything of the persecution of pirates except that, hey, pirates are cool and it’s definitely not cool to persecute them. But I was dearly hoping Verbinski and company would try to smuggle some more political subtext into their big Memorial Day popcorn movie.

  • http://djardine.blogspot.com Dan Jardine

    I must confess to having seen neither of the third instalments of POTC or Spidey, so I can’t really enter into any sorta meaningful discussion on those fronts, sorry.

    I like the comment you culled from Matt’s place (sidebar: what Matt has done with the House Next Door is pretty much what we were trying to do at Cinemarati, but never seemed quite capable of pulling off) particularly given the egregiously flawed Robert Carlyle character, who does the WRONG thing and is (initially, at least) rewarded quite richly.

    We DO get the Sopranos up here at the same time as y’all, but I don’t have cable, so…But I do have Limewire and a DVD burner, so you can do the math on that front. I am currently about four or five episodes behind, however. The weather’s finally taken a turn towards summer, so my tv viewing has taken a downturn. I am, however, beginning to feel the tension of the inevitable collapse of the Soprano empire as the finale approaches. And like you, really enjoying Matt’s weekly reviews (his cohort Alan Sepinwall does a good job on the TV reviewing front as well), though again, I’m several weeks behind on that as well.

    About the only thing I’m catching up on his the back catalogue of Nordic

    filmmakers, having finally finished off Criterion’s Dreyer quartet, as well as about 15 Ingmar Bergman films and a dozen or so of Aki Kaurismaki’s.

    Turns out Woody Allen has really been onto something all these years. That Bergman fella is good.