28 Weeks Later… (Fox Atomic, R)

film_28weeks_smUnfortunately, 28 Weeks Later… is nothing more than a substandard horror knockoff, an inferior and fuzzy Xerox copy of the original.

 

 

 

 

It was the cock-eyed optimist in me who hoped that Danny Boyle's excellent 2002 horror thriller, 28 Days Later… would spawn a worthy sequel. Aside from some third-act problems, it was an edge-of-your seat, terrifying and enjoyable (if you like this sort of thing) updating of the zombie film in light of the World Trade Center attacks. Unfortunately, 28 Weeks Later… is nothing more than a substandard horror knockoff, an inferior and fuzzy Xerox copy of the original.

To sum up the difference between the films, the first film provided characters to care about, gave them opportunities for growth and development, and the filmmakers judiciously guided them through a landscape of terror to a semi-logical conclusion. 28 Weeks Later… is a pastiche of horror retreads that can be boiled down into one sentence: This film features stupid people you don't care about, doing stupid things no one would ever do, all shot in bad lighting by filmmakers using way too much slow motion photography and red-colored corn syrup. The outcome is random and unrewarding. The fright sequences-the main reason to see such a film-are haphazardly plotted, build little sustained terror or emotion, and the best of them are a pale comparison to the first film.

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The story concerns the reunion of a family after most of the population of the United Kingdom is wiped out by a killer virus that reduces the infected to raving, flesh-eating zombie maniacs. When the hiding spot of married couple Don and Alice (Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack) is exposed, Don abandons Alice to the zombies to escape. Months later, the zombies have starved to death, and the United States military (or the dozen or so uniforms the film's budget would allow) is supervising the clean-up and reconstruction of London. Working for the military, Don awaits the return of his children, who were spared the plague by being off on a school trip. Unhappy that they cannot return home, they leave the safety of the military's secured zone and set off through deserted London streets (!) to visit their real home. Incredibly, they find their mother, Alice, alive and living in squalor in their house. Alice is infected with the killer virus but does not succumb to it. Brought back into the secured zone, it is not long before a guilt-ridden Don confronts his wife with deadly consequences.

The above story, the film's emotional core—if there is one—takes up the first 45 minutes or so of the film's 99-minute running time. The remainder is a dull series clichéd sequences featuring poor decisions and ridiculous coincidences that leaves the secured zone stalked by zombies and the children hurried off to safety by two caring soldiers (the poorly used Rose Byrne and Jeremy Renner). A multitude of chase scenes ensue and most of the film's characters meet unfortunate ends.

The movie is full of missed opportunities. Where the first film replaced the shambling zombies of the past with rage-driven sprinters, this film could have dealt with the consequences of being infected with, but unaffected by the virus. Could these infected control the other zombies? Are they a separate species? Would they vary back and forth Jekyll-and-Hyde-like between their human and zombie selves? 28 Days Later… touched a raw nerve in the U.K. and U.S. in playing upon the September 11 attacks (the wall of photos of the dead and missing, eerily abandoned streets, the quick collapse of ordered modern life) and the mad cow disease outbreak in Britain. 28 Weeks Later… tried to do the same thing with Iraq (menacing US soldiers, oppressive security measures, a secure zone like Baghdad's Green Zone) and Hurricane Katrina (Alice's squalid attic hiding spot and London littered with debris and corpses looked a lot like some pictures of New Orleans), but falls well short.

It is a pity that Oscar-nominated Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo could not pull this one off. One wonders what he has been doing since 2001's intriguing thriller, Intacto. The film's one original sequence bears his fingerprints and involves the last surviving soldier guiding the children into an Underground station with only a rifle's night vision scope to guide them. They perilously make their way in pitch-blackness down stalled escalators covered in barely visible corpses with the children following orders from the terrified soldier as to where to step. Too bad that when it becomes inconvenient to maintain the pitch-blackness, the conceit is abandoned. Too bad the nifty sequence comes too late in the film for the audience to much care. | Joe Hodes

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