28 Weeks Later

Saturday, August 18, 2007

First things first – 28 Weeks Later isn’t as good as the film that preceded it. Its narrative is a lot more flimsy, the characters aren’t as engaging and it relies more heavily on cheap shock tactics to provide thrills and chills. But that being said, it is a decent sequel. It certainly doesn’t embarrass itself.

One of the most unfortunate things about 28 Weeks Later is that its best scene happens right at the beginning. The film opens with a group of survivors holed up in an isolated cottage. They have little to do but eat and squabble amongst one another. But then the infected attack and all hell breaks loose. As is usual these days, the action is frantic and confusing. Sometimes you’re not really sure what’s going on. But then Don (played by Robert Carlyle), while being chased through the house, has to choose between saving his wife from the infected and saving himself. He chooses to save himself. And the scene where he leaps from the cottage and is pursued through a field by swarms of the infected is an outstanding moment. John Murphy’s magnificent score pounds from the speakers and more and more diseased individuals take pursuit. And then as he’s running Don looks up to the window and sees his wife begging for help. But it’s too late – she gets taken. And then with swooping aerial shots and with more infected oozing from every corner of the countryside, Don heads for the river and leaps into a boat. It’s heart-stopping stuff – wonderfully cinematic and strangely moving too. Can you really blame the guy for saving his own skin? How many of us wouldn't do the same?

And I like the scene later in the film (in a supposedly ‘safe’ London) where Don tells his kids what happened to their mother. He breaks down crying and says that she was killed in front of his eyes – there were was nothing he could do. Again, is it so harsh to judge him? Would the truth serve any purpose? It’s just a bit of a shame, then, that as the film is slowly building this morally ambiguous character that he becomes a fully-fledged monster.

One of the film’s twists is that Don’s wife isn’t really dead. Even though she was attacked by the infected, she’s immune to the virus – she’s a carrier. So then when she’s captured by the American troops who are now running the show in Blighty, Don goes to see her so that he can apologise. However, he makes the mistake of kissing her and gets infected. The scene that follows – Don’s brutal killing of his wife, is actually quite hard to watch. He beats her and claws at her and then sticks his fingers in her eyes. The film doesn’t pull any punches in terms of violence.

However, some of the gore is a bit silly at times. There’s a bit where a field full of infected get mown down by helicopter blades. Heads roll, limbs are torn from bodies and blood sprays everywhere, and while it’s quite amusing in a sick way, it feels slightly out of place in what is an otherwise deadly serious horror flick.

A much better scene is the one where the Americans lose control of the new community they’ve established. Infection spreads, and not being able to tell the infected from the normal, the soldiers are given orders to kill everyone. I guess it’s quite easy to draw parallels with the situation in Iraq. When you can’t tell the bad from the good, just kill everything. (In both 28 Weeks and 28 Days, normal humans are shown as the real monsters, although I actually think that point is better conveyed in Boyle’s film – the military terror in that film is more personal; here it’s more abstract.)

And then there’s the carpet bombing of London. The military goes to all this effort to set up a new community and then proceeds to destroy it once it becomes clear it can’t keep order. Again it seems to be inspired by the current political climate.

But back to the scene where the Americans have been given orders to kill everything that moves. There’s a wonderful bit where Don’s son is wandering the streets, civilians trying to escape and the infected pursuing them as bullets whiz by and as the same John Murphy cue, the one that was used in the scene where Carlyle escapes the cottage, plays on the soundtrack. It has a wonderfully chaotic feeling to it. The real terror in the film isn’t from people leaping out of the dark but of feeling completely helpless – all we want in life is safety and security, but in this film, like in Iraq, you’re never too far from chaos; everyone seems to be conspiring to kill you, even those who are supposed to be your saviours.

However, as good as all this stuff is, the film can’t claim to be a classic of the genre. For one thing most of the acting is decidedly average. And also the characterisation is pretty thin. Therefore it’s hard to care too much about the characters, as the film doesn’t seem to care that much about them either. The writing, too, is mediocre. There weren’t any lines that stood out as godawful, but by the same token there was nothing that stood out as outstanding. But as an action/horror film, 28 Weeks Later works well. It certainly gets the blood pumping. And although it hits you with a few cheap shots, for the most part it’s a pretty smart flick, which is always something to rejoice when it comes to modern horror films.

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