Sequel cashes in on horror

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2007

“28 Weeks Later”

Fox Atomic

1 hour, 31 minutes

I don’t know exactly why it is, but zombie movies seem to be far more prolific a genre than you’d think. I mean, they’re really just a kind of sub-genre of the greater horror movie category, but for some reason there’s a whole bunch of them. Maybe it’s because, unlike say, werewolf films, zombie movies offer the chance to make sweeping societal commentary. The original “Night of the Living Dead” was a treatise on civil rights, while “Dawn of the Dead” spoke to the issue of consumerism. More recently, the riotous comedy “Sean of the Dead” dares compare the work-a-day drones of Great Britain to the walking deceased.

With the latest entry, the terrifying and disturbing “28 Weeks Later,” the issue is security, and the overtones to the current world climate couldn’t be stronger.

“28 Weeks Later,” sequel to the surprisingly successful and shocking “28 Days Later,” actually begins somewhere in the middle of its predecessor’s timeline. The two films, though telling a continuing narrative of a greater story, have little to do with each other. The first film tells of the accidental British release of a terrifying “rage virus” — one that destroys all reason in its victims, sending them on a horrifying and murderous rampage. The virus spreads quickly, almost instantaneously after an exchange of blood or saliva; or both — there’s a lot of biting going on.

“28 Days Later” follows one character and his attempts to survive until all the afflicted eventually die of starvation. “28 Weeks” picks up in the middle of the horror, focusing on a different group of survivors.

Beginning almost serenely, we see a desperate band huddled together in a boarded-up house, doing their best to maintain a sense of normalcy, despite the knowledge that certain death awaits outside. Suddenly, just as the audience starts to get comfortable, all hell literally breaks loose.

Fast, frenetic camera work and chaotic point-of-view shots amp up the terror as the afflicted swarm the house. Our would-be hero, British actor Robert Carlyle, races upstairs in an attempt to save his wife. At the last second, however, he panics, leaping out a window to save himself, leaving her to certain death. He makes it to a refugee camp, but he can’t outrun the overwhelming guilt he feels.

This all happens in the first 10 minutes of the movie, and by the time the opening credits actually begin, your adrenaline is pumping. The rest of the film offers a Britain in the wake of disaster, six months after the end of the first film; a country tightly controlled by an occupying force, the U.S. Army.

The crisis seems to be over, and families are being allowed back into the country, but strict security and a complete loss of the right to privacy has replaced the terror. Suddenly, the army’s worst nightmare is realized — a Typhoid Mary is brought into the Green Zone, and the disease is off and running. In the tight confines, the rage spreads rapidly and the security forces decide it’s better safe than sorry, opting to wipe out everyone and everything in the afflicted area.

But wait. Might there be a possibility of a cure? It’s this hope that puts yet another band of panicky survivors in a race for time across a ruined city.

Whereas most horror movies are somewhat silly, and often downright lame, these two films, “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later” are deadly serious, the second more so than the first.

They are also well-made, combining quality acting and relatively low-tech effects with top-notch cinematography. At times the camera moves so fast it’s impossible to tell which way is up, both hiding some of the graphic violence and making it all the scarier. At other times, there are beautiful slow pans of an amazingly empty landscape. I have no idea how they did it, but there are scenes of London that appear completely empty. It’s chilling and eerie.

There are a few plot holes, though. Some of the choices the characters make seem a little arbitrary, though necessary to the plot. This struck me as laziness on the part of the writers, but the film works overall. The biggest detriment this movie has is I can’t imagine it would inspire many repeat viewings. It is draining to watch it once, and, as the story is as grim as they come, once is enough. I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the level of quality in a sequel like this — one without the original director and all the hallmarks of a studio out to cash in. In this case, “28 Weeks Later,” unlike that “Pirate” mess, shows what a quality Part 2 should look like. Grade: B+

“28 Weeks Later” is rated R for violence and language.

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