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28 Weeks Later
A zombie film in which brains aren't just for eating
Many will perceive a strong anti-American streak running down the back of the story, or rather an anti-Bush streak; echoes and evocations of everything from present-day Iraq to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina inform director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's picture. But the director and his screenwriters don't stop dead for any lectures. The pacing of the sequel is more satisfying, I think, than the original, and while the first one had a sexier, "cooler" vibe (Cillian Murphy's bare bodkin and all those electric guitar krraaannggg ! s on the soundtrack), "28 Weeks Later" shakes you up in a way the first one didn't.
I never bought the happy ending of the earlier picture. But even the more ambiguous alternate ending is nothing compared to the apocalyptic vision of the new film. It's hard to tell if it goes too far for a wide American audience. This much is certain: The film sticks to its hellacious vision and tells just enough story to support the zombie attacks, which are what they were in director Danny Boyle's original: nasty as hell.
"28 Weeks Later" begins as England lifts its quarantine and recovers from the ravagements of "the rage virus." The U.S. Army oversees the reconstruction and resettlement of London. A security manager played by Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") reunites with his son (Mackintosh Muggleton) and daughter (Imogen Poots), who were on holiday out of the country when the virus infected so many, so quickly.
The fate of the kids' mother sets the tone for the entire picture. In a sharply realized prologue, dad, panicked and trying to stay alive, sacrifices mom (Catherine McCormack) to a gaggle of crimson-eyed infected hordes roaming the countryside. But she doesn't die; she turns up very much alive, and the look on Carlyle's face lets you know the trouble he's in for. McCormack's character turns out to be infected but not fully symptomatic. She is, however, hacked off, and Carlyle pays for her abandonment issues.
By complicating its notion of zombiehood--it's no longer an either/or--"28 Weeks Later" keeps the audience on edge even more mercilessly than did the 2002 original. Fresnadillo made the elegant but rather arch "Intacto," and none of that film's surface sheen can be found here. He and cinematographer Enrique Chediak shoot the chases and viscera in jumpy, subtly speeded-up hand-held style, akin to Boyle's work in the first one. The same editor (Chris Gill) worked on both, and while some of the violence is filmed and cut in such a way that risks visual unintelligibility, the best of it's frighteningly plausible, at least in the realm of your garden-variety blood-vomiting plague-ridden fairy tales.
Much of the time, the unstable family unit at the center of "28 Weeks Later" is under attack from the U.S. armed forces as well as the zombies, and Fresnadillo's images of death and destruction are truly upsetting. But they're upsetting in a way that means something. In "Saw" everything's a miserable gag, and in "Hostel" the hostility toward women is enough to make you hurl. In "28 Weeks Later" an awful lot of rabid, hungry undead folks bleed an ungodly amount of zombie blood, but you don't feel like a psycho-in-training watching it all go down.