May 13, 2007 | Comments ()

By Phillip Stephens | Film | May 13, 2007 |


Ideally a zombie film or, more broadly, all post-apocalyptic fare — while made evocative through its frightening conceit — should serve as an excellent springboard for human allegory. The end-of-civilization motif made popular by such authors as John Wyndham and Richard Matheson was seized by George Romero and his original zombie trilogy and used to create an excellent vehicle for satire, exploiting the disturbing pitfalls faced by the human race once the veneer of civilization was stripped away.

Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later energetically reinvented Romero’s model, using a new zombie-as-crack-addict formula and frenetic style to expand the satirical potential. Though Boyle only served as an executive producer for this sequel, director/writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has successfully magnified Boyle’s original idea and made a worthy, if not altogether superior follow-up, a gore-drenched anarchic vision of utter cataclysm with few comparisons for sheer nihilistic fury.

As the title suggests, the film picks up months after the original’s virus has annihilated the population of mainland Britain. An American-led NATO expedition is attempting to reclaim the country, claiming with arrogant certainty that the virus has been eliminated, and attempting to repatriate a quarantined section of London with refugees. The story follows two children, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), who were schooling in Spain when the original outbreak occurred. The kids return to London to be reunited with their father (Robert Carlyle), a survivor who, we see in a pre-credit sequence, harbors a dark secret about the death of their mother (Catherine McCormack).

Boyle’s vision in the original film, while chilling, was much more optimistic than Fresnadillo’s — Boyle found hope in the improvised family unit that formed among the small band of survivors. Fresnadillo turns this outlook on its head, depicting the devolution and destruction of a real nuclear family. When their small commune is invaded by the undead, Carlyle panics and abandons his wife to an (apparently) gruesome fate and then lies about it to the children. This is, of course, a decision that comes back to haunt them all.

But Fresnadillo’s real satirical target is much less subtle — his axe to grind is more political than social, and it is of course regarding the American military overseers. The repatriation and nation-building of American forces certainly has benevolent intentions and appearances, but the soldiers and administrators who rule over the tiny enclave, watching the inhabitants through sniper scopes and surveillance cameras, are almost as dispassionate toward their charges as the murderous infected. And when the chaos arrives, as we know it inevitably will, they prove to be equally if not more dangerous toward the inhabitants, incapable of distinguishing enemy from victim and, ultimately, becoming both unable and unwilling to bother.

Fresnadillo’s greatest achievement with 28 Weeks Later is his magnification of Boyle’s original style. The film is shot in the same grainy, digital beauty, letting us soak up the saturated vision of a destroyed or abandoned city with grimy corpses littered throughout. But where Boyle relied on slow dread and tension to magnify the horror, Fresnadillo lets the luridness of the whole enterprise do the work for him; when pandemonium breaks out, the camera bobs, the lights flicker, and the resultant carnage is flashed at for milliseconds at a time — 28 Weeks Later is an epileptic nightmare that numbs as much as it horrifies.

In this regard, the film is an aesthetic improvement over the original. Unfortunately, the writing is nowhere near as ingenuous. Fresnadillo’s characters are too often scant vehicles to move the wildly paced plot along, and his political allegory, while disturbing in its proximity to Baghdad, is a bit too bald to serve as effective commentary. But for these occasional weaknesses, the overall effect of frenetic gore and nihilistic savagery is a commanding one, and it makes 28 Weeks Later an exceptional horror film in its own right.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

Come the Apocalypse

28 Weeks Later / Phillip Stephens

Film | May 13, 2007 | Comments ()



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