Review: 28 Weeks Later

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Screenwriters: Rowan JoffeJuan Carlos FresnadilloEnrique López LavigneJesús OlmoAlex Garland

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rose Byrne, Robert CarlyleMackintosh MuggletonImogen Poots

Verdict: Better than it realististically had any right to be

I have a very vivid memory of first watching 28 Days Later… , I didn’t know who Danny Boyle was, I’d never seen Trainspotting, (Danny Boyle is also responsible for such works as Millions127 Hours, and the London Olympics ceremonies, yes, he’s directed the Queen), although I’d seen my friend’s poster of the now infamous ‘Choose Life’ monologue, which I myself have performed for drama requirements. At this point I was never really that into film, but 28 Days Later, was, and remains, one of the best horror movies I’d ever seen, and one of the best films I’d ever seen, full stop. So let’s just say I had a lot of hype going in to 28 Weeks Later, which comes to us courtesy of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who’s well, not done much else unfortunately. 

28 Weeks Later is a very different beast to the original, it tells the story of a would-be-tragic-hero Robert Carlyle, (TrainspottingThe Full MontyRiff-Raff), who is the caretaker of one of the buildings in a safe zone, set up by a US led NATO force, in the Isle of Dogs. His children come home, the first children ever to be let back into the country, just as they discover something that could either save, or damn the community. It also follows some of the NATO officers in the fallout to this. What I like about it is that it’s a low key, high-octane thriller of a horror movie, with actually an awful lot of subtext. It’s well acted, kinetically directed, and a lot of fun.

Where you go with sequels I think, in terms of finding the balance between honouring the old and finding one’s own feet, I think can be easily accomplished in maintaining the cinematic language and universe of the original. If one was to look at the transition from Alien to Aliens (we will come back to this so pay attention), or even to Alien 3, they’re all very different films, made by different directors, with different distinct styles, and they all find they’re own unique ground, (whatever else may be said of the three-quel), but they are all, definitely part of the same universe, which is why it works as a franchise. Now if you were to look at the Star Wars prequels, the CGI backgrounds and whizz-bang action sequences are completely at a disconnect with the revolutionary practical effects, kitch-y charm, and memorable, dialogue focused fight scenes or the original trilogy. 28 Weeks Later, definitely finds its own feet, whilst remaining true to the source. For one, it’s shot on 16mm, which is different to the Canon XL1 used in the original, it is used for a different purpose which I will come back to, but it’s similar, and gritty enough to maintain continuity, and the zombies *ahem*, ‘rage infected humans’, are exactly the same, and just as visceral and thrilling. 

I was surprised at just how many people in the movie went on, or already were, people who I really like as actors, Jeremy Renner is really great in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Idris Elba, (LutherZootropolisThe Jungle Book), is one of the most in vogue actors you could find at the moment, and he’s really good as the stock-US-general figure here, and that’s all he really needs to be and he does it really well. I was really surprised to see Rose Byrne who in my mind is inseparable from Bad Neighbours, although she has done horror work since in Insidious. There are child actors, who quickly become the main focus of the movie in Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots. Mackintosh, I’m gonna get him out the way now he’s absolutely terrible, I mean really truly awful, it’s not surprise he’s done nowt since, but Poots is really, really great. She’s incredibly naturalistic, powerful, and believable, and I’m really pleased to note her prolific nature since. 

But that’s not what you come for with 28 Weeks Later. It’s really good fun, it’s visceral, full of hoards of zombies running through things, it has one of the most memorable opening sequences of any horror film ever and I thought we were half an hour in before checking my watch and realising there were only 20 minutes left! It’s high octane thrilling stuff, and if your there for some genre exploitation you get that in spades, in fact there was one scene that reminded me of Braindead!, in it’s almost comically OTT violence and gore. It does however have a lot to say, and it’s conveyed very well, it was taking me a while to figure out exactly what button the cinematography was pushing because it definitely was doing that, at one point I thought it was a particularly gorey episode of ‘The Empty Child‘ era Doctor Who. I started picking up on themes of American foreign policy, the Iraq war, exceptionalism. Then it hit me, the film was reminding me of television news footage of western forces in Iraq an Afghanistan. Indeed there are certain key sequences that I think quite knowingly made me think of Apocalypse Now. What it does very well is look at the way America invades other countries, and asks you if you would be uncomfortable with the dehumanising nature, the detached way people think about ‘other’ countries, if it was London? The fact this equates terrorist ideologies with a zombie virus is very interesting but slightly beside the point.

I also felt a slight meta commentary about sequels in general, how a low key piece, made by an idie, maybe non-american director, like Alien, or Monsters, can have America come in, stuff it with money and guns and we end up with Monsters: Dark Continent. 28 Weeks Later doesn’t fall into this trap and remains, a smaller scale, just as exciting, thematically rich, exciting little B movie that might even rival the original, depending what day you ask me. 

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