28 Weeks Later

28-weeks-later poster28 Weeks Later (2007), Rated “R”
Starring Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau Jr.
Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Review by Nicholas Ozment
Rating three stars

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So everyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for zombie movies. When this one came out in 2007, I was looking forward to learning what was happening in the British Isles seven months after the first outbreak of the Rage virus, which had turned virtually every Brit into a bloodthirsty zombie.

Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has taken over the helm in place of 28 Days Later’s Danny Boyle, and he often-effectively employs the same frenetic camerawork–all low levels, low lighting, lots of documentary-style handheld shots–to place us right in the midst of the terror. Only the terror this time doesn’t just come from blood-spewing zombies.

Britain, you see, is now completely depopulated. Unlike the Romero-style zombie, which presumably can survive indefinitely, or at least until the last of its flesh falls off, Rage zombies apparently do need to eat, and their ration of fresh blokes has long-since run out.

Enter US-led forces to do some nation-building. We can all guess how this is going to turn out. Several thousand out-of-country Brits have been reintroduced into a controlled Green Zone. Can anyone say Fresh Meat?

28 Weeks Later introduces a compelling premise and some intriguing scenarios, but to my mind many of these remained undeveloped or under-explored, in favor of the last half of the movie devolving into a fairly typical running-around-for-survival-while-being-chased-by-zombies blueprint. Here are some of the effective elements, which I would like to have seen tapped further:

We are introduced to Don (Robert Carlyle), who escaped the first outbreak only by leaving his wife to the zombie hoards (like the old joke “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you”). When he is reunited with his two children, he is understandably guilt-ridden, and his children soon learn that he fudged on the details of their mother’s disappearance. This is wrung for some emotional pathos early on, but soon becomes moot, whereas I thought it would play out more thematically.

A fascinating scene comes early in the film, when we see through the snipers’ sights, which are always trained on the high-rise building where the civilian repatriates are residing. It is reminiscent of Hitchock’s Rear Window, when Jimmy Stewart’s character observes the lives of others transpiring through his binoculars. The squirm-inducing added layer here is that these snipers are seeing the people in crosshairs, and have the power to bring a life to an end with a single squeeze of a finger. Makes one wonder about the cost of protection at the expense of privacy and liberty. This intriguing idea only gets the one scene, though, and is not really explored further.

The most frightening, suspenseful moments in the film are when the flesh hits the fan and the Green Zone goes Code Red. Crowds of panicking people are pouring onto the streets interspersed with slavering zombies, and the snipers have to pick the infected from the non-infected. As one GI says over his radio intercom, “This is FUBAR.” More stringent protocol kicks in, which basically translates to Containment=Everyone must die.

I would like to have seen a bit more from the POV of military personnel, especially communication between the acting general and his superiors and subordinates as the horrible decision is made and then enacted. We do get the inner struggle of one GI, Doyle (Jeremy Renner), who disobeys orders and hooks up with some of the civilian survivors. He is another compelling character, and I wish they’d done more with him.

The chief medical officer Scarlet, played by Rose Byrne, also joins this embroiled cadre of survivors, with an ulterior motive that I will not reveal, for it would give away a big secret. She knows the military brass aren’t in a negotiating mood; their modus operandi being something like, “Things have gotten out of control; blow it all up.”

What makes Rage zombies so scary, as everyone will recall from the first film, is that they are not your Daddy’s lumbering undead. Rage zombies really tap into both the zombie and the werewolf archetype: the Rage virus unlocks the feral, rabid beast inside. The means of infection also plays on societal fears. Rage zombies are always vomiting forth copious amounts of blood–which happens to be how real viruses like Ebola affect their hosts and are spread. To understand one salient fear that zombie infestation taps into, you need only recall news footage of crowds of masked people thronging sidewalks in China and Canada during the SARS outbreak or last year’s Swine Flu scare.

Of course, the best zombie flicks have always had a socio-political undercurrent, as well. If you’re a Romero fan, I need not belabor here the metaphors of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. Another obvious metaphor at work in 28 Weeks Later is how gung-ho good intentions can be so disastrous. Analogies to Iraq are all-too-readily apparent.

28 Weeks introduces another terror as menacing as the zombies: being caught on the other side of the demarcation line when Code Red protocol comes down. The military’s response steadily escalates through the night of horror, from sniper fire to firebombing to clouds of chemical gas–eerily effective as they creep along the deserted city streets, wiping out enemy combatant and innocent (“collateral damage”) alike.

On a tangential note, this makes the second movie in as many months where the blades of a hovering helicopter are used to slice ‘n dice zombie hoards. Which makes me wonder, is this even possible? Would flying a chopper like this, at a low angle with the blades hitting dozens of bodies, cause it to go out of control? Anyone know a chopper pilot who can clear this up for me? An inquiring mind wants to know.

Ultimately, my expectations were colored by having recently read Max Brooks’ awesome World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, which spells out a similar scenario, all the way up to how world governments might deal with such a global pandemic, with frightening plausibility. Perhaps we’ll get something on that scale with 28 Months Later, which this movie leaves the door wide open for.

 

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