28 Weeks Later (2007): Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s Sequel to Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later”

An aura of doom and gloom prevails in “28 Weeks Later,” the incendiary, sporadically entertaining follow-up to Danny Boyle’s gut-wrenching sci-fi “28 Days Later,” which distributor Fox Searchlight had made into a huge hit ($82 million).

As directed by Spaniard Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, the picture walks a fine line between a gross-out exploitation flick and a more serious horror feature with poignant critique of contempo American society, its military-industrial complex, the nuclear family, and the paranoia and despair that surround us in the post 9/11 era.

“28 Weeks Later” opens without much fanfare May 11, as counter-programming to “Spidey 3,” Sony’s Behemoth franchise that has made over $382 million worldwide in its first week and is threatening to swallow all of us around. Horror flicks are doing well these days, and “28 Weeks Later” has a built-in audience (it was even more popular on DVD), so it should play with young audiences. I have no doubts that “28 Weeks Later” would become a viable franchise for Fox.

To the best of my knowledge, Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has made only one film before, the impressively executed thriller “Intacto.” Judging by what’s onscreen, he’s a gifted genre director, who knows how to manipulate conventions while never losing the viewers’ attention

Boyle’s “28 Days Later” (with or without the new ending(s), is a better picture, yet Fresnadillo’s take on the zombie genre offers its own generic pleasures, even if it doesn’t represent the fresh take as he and his team of writers, Rowan Joffe (son of helmer Roland Jaffe), E.L. Lavigne, and Jess Olmo, would like to believe. Boyle and his vet collaborators are credited as executive producers.

Like Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds” remake, which ultimately presents a more benign view of humanity, “28 Weeks Later” shrewdly places one bourgeois family at the center of the yarn so that the viewers have characters to relate to. Cynical from first frame to last and often nihilistic, this picture shows little hope for humanity, as we knew it.

According to the film, we live in times where husbands abandon their wives in crisis situations, parent neglect their basic duty and don’t protect their children, and the government betrays its citizens with its aggressively insensitive policies, both foreign and domestic. In other words, it’s every man for himself-daily existence is defined by the most primal biological instinct: Survival.

Unable to get Cillian Murphy, star of “28 Days Later,” who has moved onto more honorable projects than zombie flicks (he plays the lead in Danny Boyle’s new sci-fi “Sunshine,” the producers have cast Robert Carlyle, a good, solid actor (“Trainspotting” and others). Carlyle is credibly cast as Don, a weak father who shows up in London as part of the mass relocation under the direction of the U.S. military (who else).

It’s an occasion for Don to reunite with his two teenage children Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), who were abroad during the catastrophe. Unable to face the truth, Don conceals a dark secret from his kids, that he abandoned their mother Alice (Catherine McCormack) while fleeing a zombie attack on their home.

Don and Alice were in their upstairs bedroom when viral automatons invaded the house. Don jumps out the window, deserting his wife and a boy she’s protecting, before narrowly escaping from a marauding band of diseased zombies in a motorboat whose blades chew the flesh of his attackers.

Though it’s possible to watch “28 Weeks Later” without having seen the prequel, some background info is in order. To be on the safe side, this saga’s prologue sums up its predecessor’s tale in just a few minutes. Same would be done for the next “28” sequel, which might be called “28 Months Later”

New yarn is set six months after the zombie rage virus attack, when the British government has determined that the infection has killed off all the infected. We learn that the zombie cannibals have exhausted their food supply and died of starvation, and the UK is all but depopulated.

The outbreak is contained, and the few British refugees begin to trickle back into the country. Don now resides in a high-rise, “guarded” by the U.S. Army, which controls the empty city’s quarantined district, (mis) treating it as an adversarial occupied territory (like Iraq). The new, militarized London is overseen by Army commander General Stone (well played by Idris Elba). And what a gory mess of reconstruction under brutal occupying force it is to behold. Interpretations may differ as to whether the protected areas signal refugee compounds or allude to internment and concentration camps.

Against all odds (and against narrative logic even by sci-fi standards), the uprooted Andy and Tammy defy military restrictions and enter the quarantine zone to retrieve some mementos from their old home, where they discover their traumatized mother hiding out. Realizing that their dad had lied to them about Alice’s disappearance, they lose faith in him.

Of the 500 survivors in Britain, Alice has endured due to a genetic immunity, which may provide an antibody against the insidious Rage microbe. Though infected by the zombies, Alice is sent to a medical facility for detention and study. The Chief Medical Officer Scarlet (Rose Byrne), who later proves to be one of the few rational people in the tale, decides to retain her virus as a possible cure for saving the human race.

For his part, unfazed and a bit tormented by guilt, Don sneaks into the facility and, rather incredibly, engages in a make-out with his spouse, which transforms into an instant zombie (allusion to AIDS). The exchange of blood and other fluids establishes a direct link between sexual intercourse and contagious, lethal diseases.

Switching from the domestic to the social domain, the text now depicts how the epidemic spreads out, and how the U.S. military embarks upon Code Red, which means annihilation-or shoot first and ask questions later. The pretext or excuse is: Once the zombie-cannibal contagion menaces the populace, theres no time to make any distinction between different types of citizens.

High-level American officials instruct their pilots not to “target-specific, and thus choppers use bullets, firebombs, and bio-chemical weapons. In the gory climax, the mass slaughter is done by a military helicopter that guns down healthy and infected people, indiscriminately slicing head and bodies. Carnage par excellence!

Both “28” films contain several visually arresting images that will linger in your memory after the experience is over. Yet the vast difference in tone and mood between “28 Days Later” and this sequel are apparent from their very opening scene. Whereas Boyle’s picture creates a sense of dread by showing contaminated lab monkeys breaking free of their cages to wreck havoc, in “28 Weeks Later,” we are beyond dread and paranoia: The frightened civilians now hide within blocked farmhouse.

“28 Weeks Later” is produced almost half a century after two seminal movies: Kubrick’s socio-political satire, “Dr. Strangelove” (1964) and George Romero’s existential satire “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). Time, politics, and film conventions have changed: As shocking as these (and other) features of the 1960s were, they now appear mild and tame in ideas, characters, and visuals.

Several months ago, we saw the Alfonso Cuaron’s contemporary and more realistic sci-fi “Children of Men,” which is also permeated by a vision of despair. Like Children of Men,” and most sci-fi films, there are no clear heroes, anti-heroes, or villains, for that matter, in “28 Weeks Later.”

My background is in cultural studies and political science, and thus I can’t help but look at the subtext of “28 Weeks Later,” as a film that asks, which is worse Environmental toxic and viral infections, zombie cannibalism, or careless military strategies that lead to wars like Afghanistan and Iraq More to the point, where do we go from here in our movies

The only ray of hope in “28 Weeks Later” is represented by two characters that form what could be described an alternate or surrogate clan. This new “family” is headed by Rose Byrne’s bright military doctor and Army Ranger Sergeant Doyle (Jeremy Renner), a Special Forces sniper who disobeys General Stone’s order to fire on civilians after the quarantine is broken. Unable to pull the trigger on innocents, Doyle leads the few survivors away from the American soldiers and cannibal zombies, who are now positioned on the same side. This reaffirms my reading of “28 Weeks Later” as an ultra-cynical and nihilistic gorefest, one containing political messages that may be more overt than covert.

Cast:

Don Harris (Robert Carlyle)
Scarlet (Rose Byrne)
Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner)
Flynn (Harold Perrineau)
Alice (Catherine McCormack)
Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton
Tammy (Imogen Potts)
General Stone (Idris Elba)
Karen (Emily Beecham)
Jacob (Shahid Ahmed)

Credits

MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 95 Minutes

A 20th Century Fox (in UK)/Fox Atomic (in US.) release of a Fox Atomic (US)/DNA Films (UK) presentation, in association with UK Film Council, of a Figment Films (UK)/Sogecine, Koan Films (Spain) production, in association with Dune Entertainment.
Produced by Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich.
Executive producers, Danny Boyle, Alex Garland. Co-producer, Bernard Bellew.
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.
Screenplay, Rowan Joffe, Fresnadillo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Jesus Olmo.
Camera: Enrique Chediak.
Editor: Chris Gill
Music: John Murphy
Production designer: Mark Tildesley
Art director: Denis Schnegg
Costume designer: Jane Petrie
Special makeup effects: Dave Bonneywell, Anthony Parker
Sound: Glenn Freemantle, Simon Hayes
Visual effects supervisor: Sean Mathiesen Digital visual effects: Rising Sun Pictures

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