NOTE – This review contains a sort of spoiler concerning the fate of one character. This occurs before the halfway mark of the film and has been widely reported, so perhaps it’s not even a “true” spoiler, but either way, you’ve been warned.
I for one was not a fan of 28 Days Later. There were some good ideas and set pieces, but overall I felt it was just ripping off Dawn and especially Day of the Dead, and was an ugly film to boot due to the awful DV they used. From now until the end of time I will remain steadfast that narrative, fiction films should be shot on FILM, and DV left for documentaries. Luckily, not only did 28 Weeks Later correct this problem by shooting on film, but they also got the movie itself right this time around.
As the title reveals, it’s a little over 6 months after the outbreak. The mainland of Britain is clear of infected (who have all starved to death) and the survivors are working on rebuilding their civilization. The city is under heavy protection, and entrants to the city undergo an exhaustive medical check to ensure that they are in fact clean of infection. During this checkup, Doctor Scarlet (Rose Byrne) notices something strange about Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) a 12 year old kid who has just been brought in from a refugee camp, along with his sister Tammy (Imogen Poots). He has two different eye colors, a trait he inherited from his mother. This little nugget of exposition becomes important later.
After the kids are reunited with their father, Don (Robert Carlyle), they are disappointed to learn that they will not ever return to their home. He explains that their mother is dead (this is shown in a prologue that takes place at the same time as the original film), though he lies about actually seeing it happen (in reality she is at a window and is dragged off-screen by the infected) to cover his own cowardice of not helping her. Upset about their loss of mother and material belongings, they decide to sneak out of the city and return to their home to recover some prized possessions (photos, clothes, etc). There, they discover their mother, who as it turns out is NOT dead, having some sort of immunity to the virus, despite being a carrier. The three are brought back and held under heavy guard in the city, but when Don re-unites with her, and gives her a kiss… all hell breaks loose.
What follows (covering more than half of the film) is a pretty much nonstop series of attacks, escapes, and everything in between. There are some amazing sequences in here that not only top the original’s but most zombie movies (screw what they say, it’s a damn zombie movie) in general. One of the best concerns a huge group of survivors, trapped in a tunnel with one infected. Soon one becomes two, two becomes four, etc. There is also a sniper sequence with the US Army attempting to take out infected, but eventually being ordered to kill every target they see.
As you can probably tell from the description, the story itself is nothing to write home about; it’s a fairly standard, fast-paced, outbreak >containment > outbreak again story. There is never even a good explanation for why the dual-eye color gene makes you immune to becoming infected. Also, a major character (Idris Elba, playing the army general who gives the order to take out everyone in the city) disappears for the 3rd act, never getting his due.
But these flaws are minor when you consider the top notch bloodshed and action you receive instead. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has elevated the very nature of a “fast” zombie film and as a result, given horror fans the best horror film of the year so far (Sorry, Grindhouse). The makeup, by Dave Bonneywell, Anthony Parker, Simon Rose, and others, is fantastic, with minimal CG. As before, there are no standout or “hero” infected (other than Carlyle), but that isn’t really an issue. Besides, Carlyle, Byrne, and Jeremy Renner (as Doyle, the rogue soldier who helps the others escape the city) are all engaging leads and interesting characters, unlike the original’s bland Cillian Murphy character.
What was most refreshing about the film was, for once, the lack of “EVIL HUMANS”. This is a staple in just about every zombie film (used to crippling effect in the original film, resulting in making the entire 3rd act a boring ripoff), and while it is far from a bad plot device, it is just overused and expected at this point. While no one will be cheering for the army’s decision to take out the whole city with humans still inside, it’s not a malicious action, it’s a calculated one of survival, and the soldiers are clearly torn about it (some more than others, obviously).
And no review would be complete without mentioning the FANTASTIC score by John Murphy. While there are only two or three different cues that repeat throughout the film it is one of the most haunting and appropriate genre scores in ages. Anyone with an appreciation of film scores will want to leave the theater and head right to the store to buy the CD.
R rated horror hasn’t done too well at the box office this year, none of them taking in more than 20 million or so. If there is any film to turn that around, this is the one.