Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s 28 Days Later was done in such a way that a sequel was almost bound to fail. Their film was a horror film through and through, but it was really also an exercise in experimental filmmaking. Any film that was to follow it up will have to contend with the cool factor of not just a twist on the zombie theme (even though they’re not really zombies) but the choice in music and look of the film. All I can say is that 28 Weeks Later doesn’t disappoint and even surpasses the original film in certain aspects.
Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does a great job of trying to stick to the premise begun by Boyle and Garland in 28 Days Later while adding his own signature to the sequel. The film begins with a scene which encapsulates what someone who never saw the original film needs to know about what to expect with this follow-up. We’re introduced to Don (played by a gaunt and haunted Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack) trying to survive with several others at their English countryside cottage just outside London during the first couple weeks of the Rage-virus outbreak. This prologue shows just how tenuous any form of safe haven could be once sentimentality overrides the primal instinct for self-preservation. Don was given a choice of choosing sentimentality to try and save someone he cares about and maybe die in the process or follow the basic need for self-preservation in time of extreme danger and distress. Don picks the latter and we’re shown how horrible his choice was but at the same time how plausible a decision it was when put into context. If we were put in a similar situation could we honestly say that we wouldn’t had made the same choice which Don took. The scene with Don running across the open field with dozens upon dozens of Rage-infected people chasing after him was quite chilling.
The film goes through an introductory credit sequence explaining the timeline since Don’s escape from the cottage. We’re told that the British Isle was quickly quarantined once authorities saw how futile it was to try and save it from the ravages of Rage in the first couple weeks. Following-up on the final scenes in the original film, we now know that those infected by Rage would soon die out due to starvation and that 28 weeks after the first sign of outbreak the world outside of the British Isles have decided that it was now time to clean out the last vestiges of Rage-infected victims who haven’t starved to death and begin reconstruction and repopulation of the country. The U.S.-led NATO force in charge of this monumental project would led by U.S. Army general Stone (The Wire‘s excellent Idris Elba) and have cordoned off a safe sanctuary in London’s Isle of Dogs where British citizens who escaped the initial outbreak or were outside the country when it all began would be housed in while London was slowly sanitized.
Its where Don has been sent and given a job as a manager helping with getting London back on its feet. We’re shown the arrival of Don’s two children who were safely abroad in Spain when the outbreak first hit England. Their reunion is heartfelt though bittersweet as Don must answer his children’s questions about what happened to their mother. Let’s just say that Don’s explanation doesn’t exactly match how the opening scenes played out. Tammy and Andy (played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton) take his answers at face value but still end up sneaking out of the protected Green Zone to get to their old cottage to pick-up some items of sentimental value. This was one of the few sequences of the film which seemed to stretch believability and made me realize that once again a horror film ended up with some characters doing dumb things that would lead to nothing but death and destruction. What the two kids find once they get to the cottage marks the beginning of re-infection and the extreme policies enacted by the military to contain the problem. But containment doesn’t hold and soon enough a Code Red order is given to all military personnel.
It’s once the Code Red was given that the film began to mirror the U.S. government policies and tactics in their War against Terror, especially in Iraq. While I do not prescribe to this notion, Frescadillo handled the situation well. I say I do not prescribe to the notion that the second-half of the movie was a direct condemnation of U.S. war against terror and occupation of Iraq, because it’s a theme in apocalyptic movies that’s been used before there was a war on terror. It’s in this second-half where 28 Weeks Later reminded me a lot of George A. Romero’s underappreciated horror film, The Crazies. Just like in that film, the military in 28 Weeks Later don’t seem to be heartless about their reaction to the new outbreak and break of containment. Instead their overreaction to the whole deteriorating situation looks to be born more out of desperation and an inability to comprehend the best and most humane way to combat the crisis. As it’s always mentioned in other forms of fiction, the military’s a blunt instrument and never a subtle one. The Rage infection and those infected seem to only be stopped when using the most blunt procedures and tactics, but such ways also have a tendency to cause much collateral damage to the very people they’ve been tasked to protect.
28 Weeks Later was much more epic in scope than 28 Days Later and it’s in that which it surpasses the original film. While the first film was more about the lives of two disparating groups of survivors and how both groups’ attempts to survive shows how quickly one could fall from civilized behavior while another continues to hold on to it, the sequel shows that in the end even people with the best of intentions would succumb to the basic instinct of survival using all and any means necessary. The established shots of London overhead and down on the ground empty and lifeless really brings the apocalyptic nature of the movie with the force of a sledgehammer. These scenes followed up with the firebombing of Canary Wharf really highlights just how much more grimmer and nihilistic in tone and scope Fresnadillo’s sequel over Boyle’s more hopeful one. It’s quite a surprise that its the actions of the youngest and most innocent (as children are usually protrayed in horror movies) which causes a new cycle of outbreak and ultimately the fall of the attempt to bring normalcy back to the British Isles.
I would say that — even though the movie doesn’t really involve zombies but zombie-like people — 28 Weeks Later actually resembles George A. Romero’s Living Dead films more than Boyle’s 28 Days Later. While Boyle’s film took some of its basic themes from Romero’s work, he still didn’t go far enough. Fresnadillo took the theme of humanity being more dangerous than the Rage-infected ones during the original film’s third act and expands on it with 28 Weeks Later. There’s a deep sense of pessimism and cutthroat survival instincts inherent in the film’s themes. The only form of humanity to be seen actually comes from the same Americans whose attempts of reconstruction ends up an exercise in total annihilation of the problem even if it includes the innocent being destroyed in the process.
As a sequel to 28 Days Later, Fresnadillo’s film shared some stylistic and thematic qualities with the original film, but ends up becoming a wholly independent work (one could watch this sequel without having seen the original and still understand what was going on). Where the original film only touches the surface of the Rage virus doomsday effect on the British Isles and its population, 28 Weeks Later ceases that basic notion and gives the viewer a first-hand look at its aftermath and, later on, how it looks when an outbreak occurs in an area packed with survivors. For a fan of Romero’s classic zombie epics I do prefer Fresnadillo’s work and the look of his film over the original one, but he does sacrifice some level of characterization to keep the film’s tone and frenetic pacing in the latter-half from being bogged down. The film ends on a really downbeat note even as survivors make it to safety. This film really becomes an exercise in nihilism more than what Danny Boyle and Alex Garland were willing to do with the original film.
In the end, 28 Weeks Later brings over enough of what made the first film a hit with audiences and even surpasses the original in certain aspects. The acting was actually very good despite some characters not being fleshed-out more thoroughly, but I find this understandable to keep the frantic pace of the film from start to finish from being slowed down. For fans of the first film I don’t think this sequel will be a disappointment. This film might not reach the same creative heights for some fans but it surely won’t ruin the experience of having seen the original. The film also introduces a new face to the genre world with the excellent work turned in by Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The film even has a final brief sequence which leaves open the possibility of a third film and I don’t think fans of the first two would mind that at all.