“28 Days Later,” 2003’s intelligent, character driven riff on the zombie genre, was one of the most imaginative horror films in years, so it was perhaps inevitable it would get the sequel treatment. With “28 Weeks Later,” that low-budget gem is given the big budget treatment and a substantial amount of dumbing down.
The film is once again set in an England invested by a virus transmitted by blood or saliva that turns those infected by it into mindless beings consumed by one emotion: rage. Unlike traditional film zombies the ones of “28 Days” and “28 Weeks” are not the living the dead and do not lurch around, rather they run as if on a permanent adrenaline kick.
England was all but destroyed by the outbreak in the first film, but six months later the American military has cleaned up London and arrogantly reopened the city as an infected free zone. The political analogies are obvious and never go any deeper than the basic set up. Any opportunities for political or social satire are missed as the film instead focuses on gore and violence.
The film’s nominal star is Robert Carlyle of “Transpotting” and “Full Monty” fame. In a great opening sequence that promises a better film than we ultimately get, Carlyle, his wife and other survivalist couples are attacked by the infected. Instead of fighting, Carlyle runs away and leaves everyone behind, including his wife. The sequence provides more visceral, kinetic jolts than anything in the original and has the film’s few moments of genuine emotion.
In the rebooted London, Carlyle is reunited with his kids, who were in Spain when the outbreak occurred. It is at this point the film gets sloppy with the kids doing something so stupid that it is insulting to the viewers and works only as a plot device to set up events to bring about another infected outbreak. Once the infected are again on the loose the script and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo forget about believable characters and let the carnage reign free. The film constantly undercuts itself by killing off characters just as they’re starting to become more developed and well rounded.
“28 Days” had its moments of shocking and gruesome violence, but they were worked into a well crafted story that took the time to create characters the audience cared about. Director Danny Boyle allowed for moments of quiet, humor and even beauty. In this new film – aside from the opening and an affecting scene in which Carlyle explains to his kids that he left their mother for dead – there is little emotional connection or moments of introspection.
On the level of scares the movie is moderately successful, especially in a painful, hard to watch scene in which we watch a person become consumed by the Rage virus and then brutal kill a loved one. It is the only scene that lingers in the mind days after seeing the film.
There’s also an effective sequence in which snipers are told to kill everyone, infected or not, just to be safe. The scene is a throwback to the original’s theme that human nature is far more frightening and dangerous than the mindless infected. The infected have no choice in the terrible things they do, but humans do. It is a good message, but “28 Days” put it across with more skill and style.
Ultimately the problem is that “28 Days” was so fresh that to live up to it a sequel would have to remain equally original. Instead “28 Weeks” is filled with so many tired horror clichés and stock characters that the film’s stronger moments are undermined. It becomes just another generic horror movie with some solid scares and that’s OK, but it could’ve and should’ve been so much more.