Monday, October 22, 2007

'07 Spooky Review #7: 28 Weeks Later (2007)

In a split second you make a choice. Sacrifice or Salvation. Don, holed up in a farmhouse with his wife and a few other survivors in the beginning of 28 WEEKS LATER, makes that choice when a group of people infected with the Rage Virus begin ripping apart the farmhouse. Torn between jumping out a window to freedom or staying to try and save his wife, Don jumps and, in what looks to be an act of self preservation turns into something a whole lot worse in this sequel to the popular 28 DAYS LATER.

For anyone who hasn't seen Danny Boyle's re-examination of the "zombie" picture, the universe of both DAYS and WEEKS concern the spread of something called the Rage Virus, a highly contagious disease that turns anyone coming into contact with it, either through the blood or saliva, into a raging fiend within 20 seconds - bloodthirsty and completely apeshit. 28 DAYS LATER tells one man's story as he wakes up from a coma 28 days after the outbreak to find his country falling apart. 28 WEEKS later follows the fate of one unlucky family as Britain attempts to rebuild and re-populate, only to suffer another outbreak.

Nerds and geeks everywhere argue relentlessly as to whether or not these films actually should be classified as "zombie" pictures. Can you call it a zombie movie if the zombies in question aren't actually dead, don't return to life, and run faster than most Olympians? While I greatly prefer my zombies in the Romero style, shuffling and groaning their way inevitably toward you, I think the spirit of the zombie film, of being oppressed by huge numbers, the terror of holing up while the rest of the world collapses is very much on display in these films, and the argument is really besides the point.

Fellow Nerds and Geeks, you may commence your flaming.

In the 6 months since the initial outbreak, the American military has come over to assist Britain in the re-building process. A large section of London has been cleared and people are beginning to move back in. Don, reunited with his two children, tries to cope with his decision at the farmhouse, telling his children that he tried but was unable to save their mother. Don's children Tammy and Andy head outside the "Green Zone" in an effort to retrieve their belongings and mementos of their mother, only to find the real thing hiding out upstairs, somehow surviving the Infected attack. Upon being brought back to the protected zone, scientists discover she's immune to the infection, but still acts as a carrier. One repentant kiss later and Don finds out how quickly the virus can spread, and like that 28 WEEKS LATER takes off.

Everything is filmed in a gritty documentary style, and echoes of Iraq and a post 9/11 world reverberate throughout the story. After a terrifying and frantic opening, things begin to move at a more measured pace, and the real tension oftentimes comes not from impending Infected attacks, but from the military, whose "Code Red" focuses on extermination when containment fails. The danger comes from two directions at once: in one scene our main group locks themselves in a car not only to escape the Infected, but to seal themselves off from the chemical weapons being used by the Army to eradicate a menace they can no longer differentiate.

And then there's the presence of Robert Carlyle's Infected Father. Another innovation of the sequel is to track the progress of one of the Infected, and Carlyle's actions are more brutal and horrifying than anything I remember in the first film. His transformation and subsequent first killing jump off the screen. I squirmed in my seat. And his constant tracking of his kids makes a weird kind of logical and thematic sense: he abandoned his wife and family once, and he's determined never to do that again. So what if now he now wants to rip their throat out? Since we've already established that we're playing outside of the accepted zombie genre, there's nothing to say that these characters don't have some sense of memory, of purpose. Their very movements and actions denote purpose - why else would they be running so fast?

If 28 WEEKS LATER suffers, it suffers from merely fleshing out a concept instead of being innovative itself. 28 DAYS LATER turned in a refreshing new type of horror film, and it's style of shaky handicams have permeated every other genre of film. But what I liked about 28 WEEKS later is that it doesn't try to give you bigger and better: it strives instead to flesh out the existing world, and tell a story that focuses more on humanity's response to the situation rather than the situation itself. Moody, scary, and filled with some really intense moments (the scene in total darkness with only a night-vision scope, the awesome fire-bombing of London) make 28 WEEKS LATER a sharp, surprising little film.

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