Oct 9, 2007

28 Weeks Later (2007): A-

More so than in its predecessor, the family unit lies at the core of 28 Weeks Later, not only as a group tied by blood but by the pure, instinctive necessity to survive. That instinct drives virtually every moment of the film's hair-raising 100 minutes, but blood is of far greater thematic importance to this rampaging downward spiral. Literally, it's (one of) the means by which the Rage virus infects its hosts, but symbolically, it acts as a testament to the strengths and weaknesses that we carry on from our forefathers. How appropriate, then, that the film suggests the kind of fable as might be shared from generation to generation, albeit in its own nerve-racking, nihilistic way of directing these metaphors into our psyche. Upon its initial release, many (myself included) saw the film primarily as an allegory on the War on Terror and the U.S. government's inability to maneuver the rocky terrain it created for itself. Such a reading remains both potent and rich in parts, but more timeless and penetrating are the film's ruthless morality plays; what remains to define love when even giving your life amounts to an act of futility?

Directing his first English-language feature, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo lends the film a hyper-real quality that suggests a constant flux between imagined horrors and real nightmares, as if the whole of the proceedings were transpiring in those few seconds before Gaylen Ross startles awake at the beginning of Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Evocatively framed passages mesh with a part rock, part techno, altogether subterranean score to pronounce a sense of spiritual disorder tightly channeled between salvation and damnation, while the camera itself becomes stricken with rage whenever the demon-esque monsters appear to devour the uninfected. These jittery sequences are absolutely terrifying because the simulate the barely navigatable chaos these people are confronted with (all the while retaining a sense of who, what and where), but even during these most spastic of moments the film manifests so much raw feeling in its painterly images as to suggest a series of live action daguerreotypes.

28 weeks - or roughly half a year - after the initial viral outbreak, the zombie-like, infected victims have long since died of starvation, with the U.S. military now aiding the survivors in reestablishing and repopulating their former communities. London now suggests little more than a tightly run Boy Scout camp but it's a giant step ahead of the anarchy that wiped out most of the former population. While military officials successfully provide food, water, and other basic commodities to the incoming residents, their hubris lies in their doubtless positivity that they've (1) annihilated the virus and (2) would be able to kill it again should it resurface, no further research or preparation required. I'll admit outright that juxtaposing this atop neoconservative naivety concerning the invasion of Iraq was - although not altogether incorrect - reductive and shortsighted, cutting short all that the film was trying to say by assigning it such literal meanings and contexts. This is mankind's pomposity to consider himself higher than nature defined, its occasional correlation to our current political moment serving only to reinforce the notion that our existential flaws echo time and again throughout history. Like Godzilla, the Rage virus primarily serves to point out the folly of man, as if God saw fit to put us back in our rightful place before we got totally out of control.

It takes some work, however, to ferret out the hopefulness in 28 Weeks Later, with it's ultimately dark and borderline hopeless conclusion acting as something of a cathartic release of our own self-destructive demons. At the beginning of the film (in what may be the penultimate zombie attack ever committed to celluloid), Donalrd (Robert Carlyle) is forced to abandon his wife to the infected lest he perish as well - in theory, leaving at least one person unnecessarily dead and his two children (safe far and away from the reaches of the virus) orphaned. These characters are confronted almost entirely with painful choices between two evils - die righteously and, quite possibly, go extinct, or live with the burden of the past for the slight hope of a better tomorrow? All of this builds to a vortex of terror, both literally and figuratively, as these characters struggle to survive amidst encroaching infections (of the mind, body, and soul). 28 Weeks Later paralyzes like a direct hit of nerve gas but it's dreamy ethos heeds us to better reflect on ourselves before it's too late.

DVD Specs

First thing's first: I'm absolutely freaking amazed that this film wasn't forced to go through a superfluous extension so as to allow for an Unrated DVD release (more gore! more skin! less rhythm!). Thanks heavens, because - like Michael Mann's theatrical cut of Miami Vice - no one should lay a hand on this baby. Lack of additional footage notwithstanding, however, the highlight of this release is the director/screenwriter commentary with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Enrique López Lavigne, although that may be something of a backhanded compliment. The track is wanting overall but rewarding in small stretches: the duo talk at length about the intentions behind their creative choices, alternately stating the obvious and revealing illuminating facets of their filmmaking process (one senses that the language barrier is a partial impediment). The pair also provide optional commentary on the two rightfully deleted scenes, the first of which explicates character details otherwise inferred quite plainly, while the second awkwardly reinforces Andy's relationship with his dead mother (interesting enough, it was this scene that inspired much of the completed work). A trio of standard (i.e. superficial and boring) featurettes, a bunch of previews, and two incredibly stupid animated graphic novels round out the set. Image is rich, if a bit gooey during the nighttime scenes, while the audio is prepared to rock your system out. All in all, a merely competent package for one of the finest horror films of the past few years.

Feature: 31 Days of Zombie!


  1. I cannot understand how this movie has gained the kudos it has considering its MANY plot defects. For example:

    Before zombifications, the dad's ability to go anywhere with his universal passkey was a crucial plot point (and explained how he could get in to see his Rage-carrier wife). But how was it that there were no human guards or even nurses anywhere around? And after zombification, how could the now-zombie dad use his passkey to get around?

    If zombies could use passkeys, they could open cans of Spam and would not have died of starvation before the sequel started!

    And how did the zombie dad track his kids to that underground train station? Why would a mindless zombie even care about his kids in preference to other victims? How did the zombie see so clearly in the pitch-black underground?

    Frankly, I was very disappointed that the "sequel" failed to carry over the director and the two principle actors from the first movie. "Commitments to other projects" my butt! If they cared about the project, they would have waited a few months or a year for everyone's schedule to get together.

    Bleh. This movie was heavy-handed, under-characterized, nonsensical, and much worse than the excellent original.

  2. Re: "Before zombification..."

    And how is it that the U.S. is so royally fubar in Iraq? I'll be the first to admit that many movies want for logic or reason (i.e. just about everything that Paul Haggis has ever written or directed), but I never understood why so many people expect the characters in films to act with absolutely. perfect. reason. It's like economy "experts" whose theories assume that every consumer makes the best choices all the time -- it just doesn't happen.

    As for the human guards and nurses: (1) the military makes mistakes, and (2) at that specific moment in time it was assumed that his wife was a survivor, no more. The dad's disastrous visitation and the discovery of her "infection" took place practically simultaneously. And while I haven't committed the entire film to memory (having only seen it twice so far), I can't say for certain, but I don't recall a single instance after his infection in which the father either uses his passkey or is found in an area in which it would have been required for access.

    The zombie dad tracked/happened to find his kids at the underground station because the film's central themes concern the sins of our fathers and their indebtedness to future generations. Plain and simple. I don't recall the dad being shown "seeing clearly" in the pitch-black (after the escalator sequence there was minimal lighting abound) I will quibble, however, with the father's survival of the firebombing -- his location amidst the attack was never shown explicitly but it felt like a bit of a stretch.

    Finally, I don't get the non-fans totally decrying Boyle's absence from the film: if flaws of logic are your central problem, they wouldn't have been corrected by the presence of a different director. That's writing, not direction.

    As for your heavy-handed, etc. experience, that's too bad. Of course I wish everyone could love the film like I do, but you can't force feed something.

  3. Anonymous3:37 PM

    They aren't zombies--they're infected with an illness. This goes a long way toward explaining why one of the infected might continue to track his loved ones (i.e., the father tracking his children). And it was Robert Carlyle, not Donald Harris (Donald Harris?), who played the lead character. I thought this was a great film, one of the scariest I've seen in ages.

  4. anonymous 12:37: "This goes a long way toward explaining why one of the infected might continue to track his loved ones" Excellent point, and one I haven't thought of. As per the official "zombie" status, it's one I've never been too worried about fretting over. I think "Night of the Living Dead" showed us that the genre was one of great malleability, and in the case of the "28" films, I think the only thing that's missing from these traditional flesh-eaters is the middle-man of them actually dying before becoming carnivorous. Romero's characters have often died from zombie infections, and I'm ultimately not swayed by whether it's radiation, an infection, or a disease/virus that's making it happen (which isn't meant to shoot you down).

  5. I've enjoyed reading your reviews for the '31 days of zombie' collection so far, but your responses to the points cayze raises disappoint me. The movie stretched credulity to the breaking point from the main premise (the kids getting to the mom) to the climax peril (dad's fixation on them in particular). Overlooking that is being nice, denying it is being too nice. The dad's behavior breaks the rules established in the first movie. This isn't like the 'zombies' getting smarter over time in 'Day' and 'Land of the dead'. This was a freshly infected acting in ways no other infected have ever acted. Remember the descriptions in the first movie about how quickly and randomly infection spread in a crowd - anything moving gets chased, with the closest thing getting jumped first. They never targeted familiar faces, let alone bypassed potential victims in order to chase familiar faces. The scary part about Rage is how mindless and blind the 'rage' is. I agree the movie wouldn't have been the same without the dad's fixation to make the fear more personal for the kids (as if being surrounded by infection wasn't bad enough), but it did break the rules. Blatantly.

  6. Anonymous9:58 PM

    I really dont understand everyones fixation about this alluding to the Iraq war. The only thing thats in common is that it has the US military vs some enemy, and that could be any war. And i've never heard about an entire population becoming "infected" by insurgency or terrorism in 15 minutes and start attacking/blowing themselves up en mass.

  7. I agree with Arigatomina. While I really enjoyed the movie, and thought that many of the scenes were bravura, the plot got warped out of shape by the intent of providing a stereotypical Hollywood story arc. It was obvious to me early on that Don's wife was going to come back, since we never saw her die. It was obvious that Don would enter his wife's quarantine because his all-access card had been carefully set up earlier. It was obvious, then, that she'd infect him. All that is fine: it was a good series of plot points, albeit they were predictable. What didn't work was the extreme bending of the plot to facilitate this. It was just frankly not believable, one bit, that the kids would escape the Isle of Dogs and go to their old house. Then it was beyond comprehension that Don's wife would be left completely unmonitored in quarantine when they'd already identified that she was infected. Then there's no way Don could have survived the fire bombing unless he did what should have been impossible: use his access card to escape. Then it was just completely far-fetched, and way too pat, that there'd be the final confrontation between Dan and his children in the subway station. People's real and believable actions should drive a plot; the plot should not be warped in order to deliver up resonant plot-points a la movie of the week. Having said all of that, I can live with those failings because the film was otherwise bloody good, and absolutely terrifying.