Directed by: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo || Produced by: Enrique Lopez-Lavigne, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Bernard Bellew
Screenplay by: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique Lopez-Lavigne, Jesus Olmo || Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots, Idris Elba
Music by: John Murphy, Hans Zimmer || Cinematography: Enrique Chediak || Edited by: Chris Gill || Country: United Kingdom, Spain || Language: English
Running Time: 100 minutes
When production company DNA films and distributor 20th Century Fox announced a sequel to the influential, popular horror flick, 28 Days Later (2002), my first reaction was, “Huh, what?” And for good reason, I might add. 28 Days Later, in addition to launching the new millennium zombie renaissance and modern pop culture obsession with all things undead, is one of the better horror films released in the past couple decades. It’s perhaps director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland’s finest work, featured Irish star Cillian Murphy’s breakout performance, and more to the point, was a cohesive, self-contained story with a definitive beginning, middle, and satisfying conclusion. If there was ever a list of trendsetting films that did not necessitate direct sequels, 28 Days Later is one of them.
That’s not to say I’m opposed to high-profile sequels, spinoffs, or remakes in principle; I believe any idea or narrative continuation can be interesting with the right artists and execution. Still, if a sequel to 28 Days were to be successful, it would require its own justification, nailing the perfect premise to a zombie tale where a vaguely defined “rage virus” wiped out an island nation of tens of millions, and all remaining infected individuals starved to death — not to mention how our initial group of heroes completed satisfying arcs and were rescued, thus completing their story.
It’s no surprise 28 Weeks Later fails this important first step. Aside from a flashback prologue to the initial outbreak that starts the sequel with a bang, there is no reason for the remainder of this story. The inconvenience and emotional trauma of refugee camps notwithstanding, the idea that any international organization (in this case, NATO) would resettle an area decimated by an epidemic as lethal and rapid as that depicted in 28 Days is ludicrous. Quarantine and observation, certainly, targeted military rescues, probably, limited expeditions and decontamination after an extended period of time, possibly, but the resettlement of hundreds of civilians, let alone in the middle of a former major urban center (London)? Not a chance.
In other words, the entire premise of 28 Weeks Later is ridiculous, to the point where the rest of the narrative requires constant, significant suspension of disbelief to project oneself into the story. I am at a loss to explain how this does not bother other viewers.
Overlooking 28 Weeks’ lackadaisical premise, newcomer and no-name director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo breathes cinematographic life into this ho-hum story and shaky establishment. His use of aerial photography, first-person perspectives, and creative shot and scene transitions (wipes!) make this film diverse and visually interesting. His fast cuts and chaotic camerawork during close-quarters-combat with infected individuals are somehow coherent and legible, while sacrificing zero intensity. Fresnadillo and cinematographer Enrique Chediak blend horror and action visuals with impressive ease, and their work is the main reason to watch this film.
That being said, 28 Weeks runs into further problems with its cast and screenplay, the latter of which is written by no less than four people. None of the characters, aside from a brief but notable supporting role by Robert Carlyle, have much personality or flavor to them at all, and are thus dependent on each actor’s performance to make them interesting. While Rose Byrne and Jeremy Renner perform fine in otherwise generic, stock military characters, adolescent and child actors Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton (I’m assuming that’s a stage name?) are unlikable at best and plain irritating at worst. Nobody has an arc of which to speak, nor any interesting or memorable dialogue.
And yet, the script can’t decide whether to focus on these forgettable characters or commit to being a full-blown action film. Numerous attempts at calm and thematic reflection a la the original film fail to conjure much sympathy for these survivors, and multiple characters are dispatched unceremoniously with little emotional impact. Given the strength of the action scenes, it’s clear Fresnadillo saw this more as a fast-paced thriller with Renner and Byrne at the helm; on the other hand, Renner is killed before the final act and Byrne is never implied to be the protagonist given her lack of screentime in the first act, so the logical conclusion is we’re supposed to root for and/or relate to Poots and Muggleton, both of whom lack the likability or writing to carry this film.
All in all, 28 Weeks Later is not a terrible film, but it’s hard to recommend as either a straightforward horror picture or a solid sequel to the classic original, because in truth it is neither. Chediak’s cinematography and Fresnadillo’s overall direction are solid, with multiple impressive set-pieces. On the other hand, the movie’s four screenwriters (of which Fresnadillo is also credited) can’t decide how much to push the action or the character moments, and the latter aren’t up to snuff. Add to that the inconsistent cast and unconvincing premise, and 28 Weeks Later is altogether a well made but emotionally lackluster genre hybrid.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: 28 Weeks Later is neither interesting enough to recommend nor bad enough to sneer at. Action direction-wise and in terms of overall visual style, the film shows promise, but it’s undercut by bland characters, weak child actors, and an unbelievable diegesis.
— ON THE FENCE*. Zombie aficionados may enjoy the carnage on display, but there’s little of the personality or heart of Danny Boyle and Alex Garland that made its predecessor a modern classic.
? What the fuck was the point of that epilogue? Was the movie not unrelenting and bleak enough?