28 Weeks Later (United Kingdom, 2007)
Another week, another disappointing summer sequel. So it goes…
In actuality, the screenplay for 28 Weeks Later isn't all that bad. Sure, it's repetitious and much of it has been regurgitated from 2003's 28 Days Later, but it contains some interesting elements and offers enough gore that horror fans might have been able to enjoy it… if, that is, it wasn't for the stylistic approach employed by director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. Apparently, Fresnadillo believes that the proper way to film any action scene is to shake the camera violently and pan it wildly back and forth, thereby making it virtually impossible to figure out what's going on (and pushing viewers with motion sickness to the brink of voiding their stomachs). As if that wasn't bad enough, in the editing room, Fresnadillo ensured that no single shot lasted longer than about a second. Also, the climactic struggle takes place in darkness, making it that much more difficult to decode the action. I didn't realize a character had died until, a little later, it was apparent that person was no longer around.
I wish this problem was restricted to 28 Weeks Later. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly more common. It's a good way to cover mistakes and encourages laziness. What does it matter if a fight is well choreographed if the audience can't get a clear picture? (My complaint for the recently released The Condemned was similar.) In 28 Weeks Later, it's a source of frustration because I was interested in what was happening but the filmmaker's approach robbed me of the ability to appreciate any scene where there was a fight, chase, or other form of action.
28 Weeks Later is a direct sequel to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, although none of the characters from the first film have returned. Instead, we follow a new group of individuals from their first harrowing encounters with the infected during the initial terrorizing of Britain to their attempts to repopulate London six months later. Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack) have two children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton). The kids are in Spain during the outbreak, while Don and Alice are in hiding. When their hideout is discovered by a group of infected, the cowardly Don runs off, assuming that Alice has been killed. 28 weeks later, the kids come home, but it isn't long before it becomes apparent the crisis isn't over. Members of the U.S. military, including the lead medic (Rose Byrne), a sharpshooter (Jeremy Renner), and a helicopter pilot (Harold Perrineau), try to contain the new epidemic but it spreads too fast and too violently, triggering the ultimate solution: Code Red.
The first and better half of the movie is primarily devoted to setup and character development. This is where we are given a chance to get to know the new protagonists and given insight into the plan to return London to a living, breathing city from the ghost town it has been for the past half-year. As the movie approaches the one-hour mark, however, it turns into an extended chase, with people shooting, screaming, and being torn apart by the infected as they run around in dark corridors and tunnels and the viewer desperately tries to piece together what's going on. Admittedly, there are limitations to what can be done in a zombie movie, but a whiff of originality or coherence would have been appreciated. (I have a sense that the movie might play better on a television than a big screen.)
Action scenes aside, the look of the film is faithful to that of its predecessor. London appears grimy and washed-out: a dead, decaying city that at times would seem to be a comfortable fit into the world developed by Alfonso Cuaron in The Children of Men. The overhead and long-distance shots of empty streets and abandoned buildings are creepy, but no more so here than in 28 Days Later. This film will not be used by British travel agencies to promote vacations to London.
28 Days Later, while not terribly original, was suspenseful and involving. 28 Weeks Later is neither. The characters aren't as sympathetic or interesting. The kids are generic and the script doesn't care much about the adults. Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, and Rose Byrne are criminally underused. Compare them to Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson from the first film, all of whom inhabited better developed and more sympathetic personalities. Tension in horror movies results from viewers caring about what happens to characters. The audience's connection to the protagonists of 28 Days Later made it a compelling experience. The lack of such a connection in 28 Weeks Later reduces this to a number of sequences characterized by shock moments, frenetic (and often chaotic) action, and stylized gore - all without suspense.
It's too bad, because the fundamental idea of extending the storyline introduced in 28 Days Later is an intriguing one. The problem is that the people entrusted with the responsibility of bringing this to the screen made decisions that resulted in a deeply flawed product. My advice to Fresnadillo: next time you make a movie, allow viewers to see what's happening in real time rather than have to interpolate based on the results. Technique and style are more at fault than any other issue in undermining the effectiveness of this zombie thriller.
28 Weeks Later (United Kingdom, 2007)
Cast: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Catherine McCormack, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton
Screenplay: Rowan Joffe and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo & Jesus Olmo
Cinematography: Enrique Chediak
Music: John Murphy
U.S. Distributor: 20th Century Fox