This review contains a couple of spoilers. If you have not seen the movie, and you like surprises, go play a video game, or something.
“28 Days Later” scared me so much that I found myself hanging out in virtual stranger’s dorm room one evening, telling said virtual stranger that I just couldn’t “be alone right now.” I was so creeped out that I turned into a creep.
“28 Weeks Later” is even more terrifying, and it’s just too bad that one wants to take half the characters and feed them to the rampaging infected. “Days” was populated with characters you cared about. “Weeks” kills off or transforms the only compelling and/or sympathetic folks, leaving us to cheer the infected on. This is all besides the fact that what starts out to be a tense and clever story manages to degenerate into a splatter-fest that literally murders its own plot.
To recap if you’re not up-to-date on all the “28” goodness: The original movie, starring the paragon of elfin good looks otherwise known as Cillian Murphy, concerns the aftermath of a deadly virus outbreak in Britain. Mr. Elfin Good Looks is a coma patient who wakes up naked (yay!) in a London hospital, only to discover that the city is almost devoid of human life, and the majority of the remaining living are violent ghouls. The cause of the devastation can be traced back to idiot activists who unleash a pathogen known as Rage – those infected are not zombies in the strictest sense, but they are more than willing to chomp on their victims. Their desire is not to feed, however, but to destroy – and there is something more eerie about this concept. Our hero hooks up with stray survivors, the awesome Naomie Harris among them, and struggles to stay alive, and more, in a world where not only the infected have gone mad.
None of the characters from “Days” are included in “Weeks.” The sequel does, initially, create an alluring premise: to what extent can a devastated society, or devastated family, rebuild? Early on in the movie, a variety of concepts intersect: courage and cowardice, violence and tenderness, the idea of Britain as a closely monitored society, the old chestnut regarding the road to hell and what it’s paved with, the sly reference to a “Green Zone” at the heart of a ravaged nation, and so on. None of these ideas are explored at any length, however, save for the bit about good intentions leading to grotesquely horrifying consequences. In order for said horror to fully resonate, however, one has to be invested in the story and the characters. I just couldn’t do it.
The kids. Oh dear Lord, the kids. Played admirably by the (wonderfully named) Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, they are nevertheless so annoying as to make you want to beat yourself to death. Imogen’s Tammy, a supposedly protective older sister, is especially badly drawn; what kind of dumbass would take her little brother out of a secured area and go as far as to touch a possibly infected corpse for the sake of retrieving a memento of a dearly departed mum that was, mind you, apparently destroyed by the very virus the little morons have risked unleashing? There’s a sociopathic streak to Tammy that, while driving the plot forward, makes the consequences of her actions almost unwatchable. Compare her to Hannah, the teenage girl featured in “Days” – Hannah’s immaturity is tempered by her ability to do and say the right thing when called upon. If the filmmakers wanted Tammy to be Hannah’s exact opposite, they’ve succeeded, but to what end? And how the hell does Tammy get away with it? The movie poster reads: “Deadly force will be used to protect this area.” Riiiiight. This is why the kids have plenty of time to steal a bike, take a joy-ride, get halfway across the enormous city of London, jump on a trampoline, and raise hell after having been spotted by a sniper.
The U.S. Military, meanwhile, is so inept as to make our real-life “strategery” in Iraq look brilliant by comparison. Studly Jeremy Renner, a subdued Rose Byrne, and a perpetually pissed-off Harold Perrineau manage to come off as much more than just drooling idiots, but they don’t have that much material to work with; the movie’s perpetually shifting focus is regrettable in this sense. And it does not help that badass Robert Carlyle is completely wasted in the role of the only compelling civilian character.
I can fly a 747… no, I can fly the Starship Enterprise through the plotholes. Stories like this require the willing suspension of disbelief, but it’s equally important for the film to make sense based on the criteria initially established by the filmmakers. While the uncanny works well as a stylistic device – using it to advance the plot is a cop-out. One of the best moments in “Days” involves a kid screeching “I hate you” at Cillian Murphy’s character – this is the only instance in which an infected person speaks. The deviation from the norm is both sickeningly fascinating and acceptable in regards to continuity issues, because the writers do not proceed to spin an giant plot-arc out of this. By contrast, the entire second half of “Weeks” hinges on a infected acting bizarrely out of line for what’s considered “normal”- and this behaviour is taken for granted. One could argue that a mutated strain of the virus is involved, but then again, no people infected through this particular carrier exhibit similar traits. Wtf, mate?
This is all beside the fact that the very act of re-infection is completely implausible. I can think of half a dozen more believable plot devices off the top of my head, and I haven’t even had a cup of coffee today. Naturally, the entire sequence is terrifying. For what it’s worth, it’s extremely well done, as are the majority of the following sequences. But these are islands of good horror craftsmanship that are strung together in the most perfunctory of ways. I have tremendous respect for film writers, these film writers in particular – the subject matter is weightier than it would appear to a casual observer. The shadows of Danny Boyle and Alex Garland stretch far, and labouring in their presence must have been an added challenge. This is why I stop myself short of blasting the movie – but only just so.
“28 Weeks Later” is a classic, pee-your-panties thrill-ride, but it also wants to be taken seriously. It wants to generate discussion and provoke commentary and debate. It wants us to talk war, violence, and collateral damage. It’s an admirable effort, and it almost works. I am, however, still stuck on how a glorified janitor could have unlimited security access in a restricted area so recently devastated by a horrific virus – a virus that is a character in itself, or could be, if the filmmakers would only allow us to understand it a bit more (instead of focusing on those ketchup-smeared extras all the time).