In the beginning of production, 28 Weeks Later… seemed to be going down the same hellish path that another horror film sequel – The Hills Have Eyes 2 – was headed. Both films had new directors and in both none of the cast present in the original returned. Add to that the stories of negativity coming from both sets, and you have yourself two movies that were seemingly meant to fail. While Hills 2 did in an almost magnificent way, 28 Weeks Later… is nowhere near close to being a failure, in fact it might be the best horror film of the year with only The Host standing on its way. Of course the difference maker between these two films is not the people involved, but the script they work off of. Fortunately for 28 Weeks Later… a money-hungry Wes Craven was not involved in writing it. Instead four new people, most of whom amateurs by Hollywood standards in the screen writing business, have been brought on by the studio to breathe life into a Danny Boyle-less and Alex Garland-less film. One of these screenwriters is also the director of the film Juan Carlos Fresnadillo who was picked by Executive Producer Boyle himself, based on his previous film Intacto. How Boyle and Fox were able to spot so much talent in such a short amount of time after the sequel being greenlit and the actual commencement of screenwriting is a mystery to me, but it doesn’t matter – 28 Weeks Later… is about as good as horror films can get these days, and its a testament to the belief that you can make something that is good and thematically strong at the same time.
The film begins on a down-note which gets lower and lower on the depression scale as the film goes on. Aiming for a similar opening as the previous film, Fresnadillo does the same old deserted London shots that are as haunting and frightening on here as they were the first time around. But this time around, the city has been divided into secure zones and insecure ones. The secure zones, guarded by all kinds of soldiers wielding all kinds of weaponry, are being used as repopulation zones. In these places, people from the outside world are being brought in by helicopter while in the insecure areas, a battle between the infected and human infantry continues. Unfortunately, an infected is brought into the secure area and gets out of control, spurring a frenzied and jump-out-of-your-seat third act that pulls out all the stops that a film about fast-paced zombie-like individuals killing-off innocent human beings simply trying to save a spot on the Earth from totally vanishing off the face of it.
One of these stops is the one that is needed in a film of this sort these days, at least if you ask the filmmakers, is the political message about the immorality of an occupation. While the first film’s message was not political, concentrating on the morality of normal human beings compared to infected ones, this one is not afraid to parallel the actions of these soldiers, some of whom American, to actions in a hypothesized occupation, complete with indecent acts against ‘civilians’ in trade for their protection. It only adds to the message that the protection these questionable militia men provide utterly fails. Their incompetence, it is argued, is caused not only by their flawed humanity, but also by their carelessness and pre-occupation with immoral acts which is an argument that may be resented by many, especially people who have relatives participating in the current war and veterans. I do admit that the message is too liberal at times, bordering on offensive, but the fact that it exists and isn’t told in an overly-simplified way, like say the way Alexandre Aja sent his anti-WMD message in The Hills Have Eyes remake, makes me condone the efforts by the filmmakers to spread it.
Of course it isn’t all about politics in 28 Weeks Later…, it is also about people standing together against a common evil – a theme that is familiar in the horror genre these days, as if spreading like the Rage virus from the offensively constructed The Descent. But I digress… The people in the secure area are faced with the need to survive, and while not all of them are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, their efforts to stay alive are good enough that the characters don’t look like the stupid ones in say… Wolf Creek, who just decide to check-up on the bad guy who is never really dead. Of course the reason this film has the upper hand over conventional zombie films, and horror films in general, is because the infected are not really zombies. Even discounting scenes in 28 Days Later…, the infected are still seen by the audience in an appropriately tragic way. These are tragic individuals who are not already dead, but simply can’t help behaving the way they are. Asking them not to is like asking an epileptic to not have seizures, and that quality is one thing that definitely makes the film even bleaker than expected.
It is that bleakness in the proceedings that requires the actors to be in top form and they are, which is a pleasant surprise to say the lease. Robert Carlyle does a lot of running, usually away from infected people, but is also the most multi-dimensional one. I am unafraid to say that his performance and his character in general surpass Cillian Murphy’s Jim from the first film who was a one-dimensional goody-two-shoes. Rose Byrne, an accomplished actress and a favorite of Danny Boyle, is also solid. She does a great job of being scared. And then there is Jeremy Renner who is becoming one of my favorite supporting actors. His character is cool, and he inserts just the right amount of meance into it to make him even better. The only bad acting job here was by the kids, who are just horrid. Their acting almost ruins the film and the fact that Fresnadillo spends so much time on their activities is something that screams “Big Mistake!!” right in the audience’s face. Whenever I saw those kids I cringed.
I remember when I listened to Danny Boyle’s commentary track for 28 Days Later… and how he commented on the small explosion in that movie being there in an effort to make the film look like “the latest Mel Gibson picture.” Well, I am not quite sure he pulled that off in that one, but the budget was doubled for Weeks, so Fresnadillo allowed himself to indulge into special effects imagery and the result is great. The third act of the movie is when the real cataclysm is simulated, and the special effects are realistic and seamless, in addition to looking like they are part of the latest Mel Gibson film. The cinematography by Enrique Chediak is not as easy to embrace. Chediak’s camera goes absolutely wild when there are infected individuals within its scope and almost nothing can be discerned at times. But the style works in a weird way. Somehow, the camera reacts in the way a real person might react if they saw an infected staring into their car window while they took a nap. This type of ‘alive camera’ shooting was missing from the first film, but is welcome here. The score by John Murphy is not awesome, but it does work as something that lets the events on screen flow together well.
Overall, this film is definitely recommendable, even if you are not a fan of the genre it is in. It is a great example of a bunch of amateur filmmakers taking over a big-name project and doing their best to make it better than what most people would think it would be in the first place. So go out and see it.