Mixing primal zombie scares with shot-on-digital, you-are-there compositions, 28 Days Later was disarmingly quiet and incredibly scary. Its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, often junks the creatures to mimic a Michael Bay take on Children of Men. That’s every bit a backhanded compliment.
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo co-wrote and directed Weeks, on which Days director Danny Boyle is an executive producer. In following his little-seen thriller Intacto, Fresnadillo brings a battering ram to knock at stateside studio doors. His film’s appetite is less for flesh, more for destruction.
As visually impressive as Fresnadillo’s film is, all the willies have been napalmed out of it. Volume outpaces the dread, fragility and humanity of 28 Days Later, and the sequel is just a dim action-horror story with stereotypical characters that become lunchmeat in a somewhat unpredictable pecking order. (Pretty much all it carries over is John Murphy’s excellent rock score.)
The only surprise is a stunning opening scene, set at a boarded-up country mansion in the wake of a “rage” virus that decimates Britain. Transmitted by bite or vomited blood, the virus infects a carrier in 20 seconds or less and turns them into fast-moving cannibals who could use some Visine.
Don (Robert Carlyle) and his wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack), have holed up with other survivors, dining on canned vegetables and blackberry wine. They hope their children, whom they’d sent out of the country on a school trip before the outbreak, are safe. When zombies storm and swarm, Don’s choice of fight or flight is bloodcurdling, in a scene more brutally violent in five minutes than Boyle’s was in 113.
Six months later, the infected supposedly have died of starvation, and a virus-free Britain is ready to repopulate and rebuild. American-led NATO forces keep watch on a fenced-off high-rise, at which Don is a security chief.
Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton are not new Harry Potter characters debuting in July. They’re the actors playing Don and Alice’s kids, Tammy and Andy, who reunite with him at this safe fortress. We know Don will fudge about what happened at the mansion, and Carlyle (the only one afforded a chance to act here) generates suspense from how deeply he will lie to his kids.
Scarlet (Rose Byrne) is a dedicated doctor with concerns about letting children in so early. Someone should’ve listened to her, as the kids’ actions (and the script’s stupidity) propel a new outbreak. However, Tammy and Andy might be key to a cure, so Scarlet and noble sniper Doyle (Jeremy Renner) try ferrying them to safety amid a military containment effort and zombie attacks.
Fresnadillo has a knack for turning it up and bringing the noise, with many slick, fluid setpieces of screaming jets, fire-bombings, bullet storms and sprinting zombies in a militarized hell. One scene affords one of the freakiest rushes of raging hellfire since Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and James Cameron clearly is an influence, as this is to its forebear as Aliens was to Alien.
28 Weeks Later packs harder, meaner punches but never treats the nerves like a speed bag. And where most zombie movies aim for as many social spooks as literal ones, it’s just a cursory coincidence that it shows American foreign policy by way of firepower. It’s too dumb to be topical.
In fact, it’s unintentionally laughable at times, such as a helicopter-versus-zombie bit that, ironically, looked better in Grindhouse and a thoroughly asinine conclusion that just sets up 28 Months Later. If 20th Century Fox expects anyone to mark their calendars, the studio should bring Boyle back to the director’s chair or add a better script to Fresnadillo’s armory.