DVD Review: ’28 Weeks Later’

Inside you’ll find our DVD review of the nowhere-near-as-financially-successful-as-it- should-have-been sequel 28 Weeks Later, which hits stores on October 9, 2007, just in time for… almost Halloween. The creative team of Danny Boyle, Alex Garland, and Andrew Macdonald are back to re-invent the zombie movie yet again with the sequel to 28 Days Later. Lead by director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 28 Weeks Later picks up six months after the Rage virus has decimated the city of London. The US Army has restored order and is repopulating the quarantined city, when a carrier of the Rage virus enters London and unknowingly re-ignites the spread of the deadly infection, wreaking havoc on the entire population.

28 Weeks Later DVD
Reviewed By: Tex Massacre
8/10 or 4 Skulls

Director Danny (SUNSHINE) Boyle and Screenwriter Alex (THE BEACH) Garland’s 2002 film 28 DAYS LATER very nearly redefined the landscape of horror cinema. Shot in a guerilla Cinéma Vérité style “DAYS” took the notion of the modern zombie film to an entirely different level. The Infected, as the monsters came to be known were not amongst the newly-risen dead, they were living, breathing, human beings consumed by rage. The result of a scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, the plague spread across England consuming everyone in its path. But DAYS is not about the destruction of England by rage, it’s the story of one man and his journey through the horror.

In the same way that Danny Boyle personalized his apocalyptic vision through the eyes of Cillian Murphy’s character Jim, Oscar nominated Spanish Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (INTACTO) tackles the repopulation of London through the tale of a father and his two children trapped in the middle of a new outbreak.

Six months after the last known infected human has died, the United States/NATO peacekeeping forces are finally beginning to allow a smattering of Londoners back into the country. After having been separated from his children–who were abroad when the virus outbreak occurred–Don (TRAINSPOTTING’s Robert Carlyle) is desperate to see his kids again. Their mother Alice (Catherine McCormack) perished–due to Don’s cowardice–soon after the plague began to spread, a secret that Don will take to his grave. Once Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) arrive in the country they, like Don, long for some semblance of normalcy. So, in an effort to secure a picture of their mother, Tammy and Andy sneak outside of the Secure Zone and back into their family home. It is there that they will discover their mother hidden away from the world–still alive and harboring not only the last strain of virus, but a natural immunity that may just make her the most valuable and the most dangerous person on the planet.

Once Alice returns, a simple kiss of forgiveness on the lips of Don, is all that it will take for the rage to catch-hold and send this small band of newly arrived inhabitants into a bloody spiral of uncontrollable madness. Now it’s up to a Military Scientist (Rose Byrne) and a soldier (Jeremy Renner) to try and save the two children–one of whom may just hold the cure–from an unstoppable force of bloodthirsty monsters, and a military organization whose orders are now to kill anything that moves.

Steeped in the same gritty immediacy that made the original film such a shock of visual adrenalin, 28 WEEKS LATER is a non-stop barrage of relentless action wrapped around a very human story and peppered with a pretty obvious dose of social commentary. While the original production was much less grand in scope than the sequel–which follows the edict that everything should be twice as spectacular the second time around–WEEKS still manages at every turn to feel as intimate and as true–tonally–to Boyle and Garland’s brilliant film. WEEKS is the story of one family whose world has been completely destroyed by the virus. It could easily be the story of the entire country but that totality of encapsulation would be impossible to quantify.

Unlike DAYS, WEEKS picks up the story earlier on in the original outbreak. It shows us Don and Alice–fully aware of what is occurring–trying to survive in a world gone mad. It shows us the aftermath, the loss of Alice and briefly an illustrated timeline of the events that pass us from 28 days to 28 weeks later. For all its explosions and set pieces, bullet wounds, blood and helicopter-rotor-blade-decapitations, WEEKS is ultimately about family.

Family aside for a moment, Director Fresnadillo along with screenwriters Rowan Joffe and Jesús Olmo also use the platform of WEEKS as a thinly veiled construct to comment on the American presence in Iraq. In this sense WEEKS is hardly revolutionary, but in as much as Boyles original film played homage to the Zombie films before it, Fresnadillo’s carries on the torch of social commentary that George Romero bore with his “DEAD” films. And while Fresnadillo’s film might not be as subtle as DAWN OF THE DEAD, it’s also not as tedious or pretentiously didactic as LAND OF THE DEAD or Joe Dante’s HOMECOMMING ever was. Plus, horror films by their very natures are hardly ever overtly understated. And with all the Napalm that the “peacekeepers” drop over London, precious little point is lost on pretense.

The DVD of 28 WEEKS LATER arrives bearing about the same array of special features that the original film offered fans. And, while it’s probably not the bright shining package that rabid horror junkies dreamed of for such a beloved sequel it does have some interesting moments including the requisite audio commentary from Fresnadillo and Producer Enrique Lopez-Lavigne, which is fairly entertaining and informative once you get past the fact that English is a second language for both men.

The disc includes two deleted scenes, one of which–THE CANTEEN–is filled with an expanse of unnecessary dialogue. It takes place at the beginning of the film and features some early interaction between Carlyle, Byrne, Poots and Muggleton as the group talks over a cafeteria breakfast. The moment really offers nothing new to the story and it drags on for far too long. The second scene is much more interesting, and while also unnecessary to the overall story, ANDY’S DREAM–which takes place near the very end of the film–reaffirms the family aspect of the film in a–perhaps too–neatly packaged way. Fresnadillo cites its removal because it takes the films perspective away from Tammy, breaking the narrative structure the filmmaker employs for much of the movie.

A group of documentaries follow, the lengthiest one of which, clocking in at only 13-minutes, is CODE RED: THE MAKING OF 28 WEEKS LATER. This doc is full of talking heads, including those of Boyle, Fresnadillo, Lavigne, Carlyle, Byrne, Renner, Poots, DAYS and WEEKS producer Andrew MacDonald and Production Designer Mark Tildesley as well as actor Idris Elba. Each offers their own insight into the film as well as a few standard production stories. Boyle and MacDonald speak to the original production and generally lavish praise of Fresnadillo for his handling of the new material. The documentary also reveals that Boyle shot some unaccredited second unit footage on the film as well, which explains the authenticity of the film’s attack sequences, and creates a seamless flow connecting the two films.

The second and third documentaries cover specific aspects of production. THE INFECTED focuses mainly on the choreography of the 100+ actors that made up the mobs–revealing that all of the raging undead were made up of performers with various dance, gymnastic and circus backgrounds, helping them with the inherent physicality of the roles. The last documentary, GETTING INTO THE ACTION is as straightforward as it comes and covers the bullets, bombs and blood.

The most intriguing features are two bonus short films. Essentially a Anamatic interpretations of the Fox Atomic’s 28 DAYS LATER Graphic Novels, the first, STAGE 1: DEVELOPMENT, is a 7-minute look at the history of the creation of the rage virus by Cambridge University scientists. The second, STAGE 3: DECIMATION is a much shorter look at a vigilante solider fighting a one-man war against the infected on the streets of London. The artwork, in a sometimes slick, sometimes sketched, comic book style along with the voice over narration provides for a very cool supplement and easily the best feature this DVD has to offer–aside from the film of course. These final two extras typify what great bonus materials should be–an extension of the film that enhances the viewing experience. I really hope we see more of this type of thing on future releases.

It might seem easy, especially for fair-weather genre fans who were dismayed with the HILLS HAVE EYES 2, to write off 28 WEEKS LATER as another sequel to a hit film that tries to up its ante by sending the military on screen to blow up some stuff. But I can assure you that this is simply not the case with WEEKS–which follows the Jim-Cameron-ALIENS-idea that just because the military can, and will, bomb the hell out the place, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a compelling story to be found amongst the burning wreckage.

So, if you really need a persuasive argument for checking out what is likely to be one of the best horror films of 2007, consider how star Jeremy Renner describes the film, “It’s everything the first one is…but on crack”.

That’s good enough for me.