28 Weeks Later
(SPOILERS) The first five minutes of 28 Weeks Later are far and away the best part of this sequel, offering in quick succession a devastating moral quandary and a waking nightmare, immortalised on the screen. After that, while significantly more polished, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo reveals his concept to be altogether inferior to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s, falling back on the crutches of gore, nihilism, and disengaging and limiting shifts of focus between characters in whom one has little investment in the first place.
Fresnadillo (Intacto) brought in pals Enrique Lopez-Lavigne and Jesus Olmo to rewrite Rowan Joffe’s “underdeveloped” script; given Joffe’s other work, I can quite believe it needed attention. Unfortunately, their expansions, revisions and additions are sorely lacking, especially if they were intent on bolstering the human element. At the outset, 28 Weeks Later has the makings of something superior to 28 Days Later (not that difficult, as however innovative it was in some respects, it was also fairly formulaic in others).
The arrival of a boy at a country cottage, pursued by infected, leads to the death or infection of most of those within. By the rules of the original, Alice (Catherine McCormack) makes entirely the wrong choice, and Don (Robert Carlyle), because he loves her and indulges her, shares the blame for the devastation of their safe haven. Only hard, utilitarian choices make sense here. As her husband, Don is in the wrong and cowardly to leave her. As a dedicated survivor, who knows he will be left infected or dead due to her sentimentality towards the child (while, as it turns out, Alice will remain alive), he is entirely correct, however conflicting the decision.
And then Don must live with himself, fabricating a story to tell his children Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), one he doubtless wants to believe (he informs them he saw them bite her: “Was there nothing you could do?”) Because of the way this unfolds – the husband and wife in conflict, then reconciled, then divorced through violence – and because of the lingering impression left by Carlyle’s most iconic role, Don’s transformation into one of the infected plays out as a case of Empire magazine’s favourite buzz phrase: toxic masculinity.
He kills his wife with extreme prejudice, and then tries to do the same to everyone else. There are a number of ways this is lazy. While his infection could be construed as justice for his cowardice, it translates as an easy way out rather than a deft plot turn. Additionally, personifying the infected in one uber-villain, Jason or Michael Myers style, is the least inspired choice, one that becomes increasingly irksome as the picture’s plotting becomes ever more tenuously manipulative.
There’s also Alice herself. Are we supposed to believe she’s in a dazed state due to being infected/not (Andy seems lucid after he has been)? What other excuse does she have for failing to acknowledge she should be infected? She’s in denial? She isn’t very bright? Essentially, the character is utilised incredibly poorly once the (overused) magic device of an immune individual is overlaid on her. She’s barely able to communicate (but knows who her kids are), she forgives her husband, and then she has her head beaten in. The Borg Queen Alice is not. It’s another example of the writers falling back on the horror genre’s least admiral tropes, requiring everyone to be stupid, to a greater or lesser extent.
Which is a shame, as the initial terror of Don’s rural pursuit, infected giving chase from all angles, ranks as one of the most palpable horror scenes put to film. Almost immediately after, however, you realise 28 Weeks Later isn’t going to throw any further curve balls, as we’re informed repopulation is underway before the country has been entirely cleared up, and that children are being allowed in too (that the movie becomes all about saving the children, after the opening gambit, is also all too predictable).
The crudity of the manoevuring increases exponentially once Don has become infected, whereby the only reason anything is happening is to create a “tense” sequence, rather than plausibility in terms of plotting. I mean, why not just go the whole hog and make an outright slasher? Which this isn’t that far from in terms of wallowing in bloody entrails. The moment I mentally check out of the movie occurs as Fresnadillo sends his surviving characters into the underground, a step beyond any rational motivation.
There are some notable if sketchy predictive programming ideas in the mix here. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) is assigned the task of shooting both infected and uninfected when all hell breaks loose (sacrificing innocents for the greater good); his failure to carry this out, contrasting with Selena’s steeliness in the original, represents the wrong choice, per the ending’s spread of infected to the mainland. It stands as validation of those with the mettle to make hard decisions – Idris Elba’s Elite stand-in Stone – and that those recognising the need to depopulate entire regions have the bigger picture in mind (and would surely be thanked, if only we knew).
There’s also the idea of calculated population displacement making the English (or European) nationals (minors at that) the refugees; doubtless, such recalibration would be part and parcel of any Great Reset, so we’ll (or they’ll) see how that pans out. In this regard, 28 Weeks Later presents the “ideal” apocalypse – if a Rage virus could be released and wipe out a population, ultimately through starvation, in a few weeks, they surely would do it (instead, they’re stuck it seems, with pressuring the people to consent to their plans and so “euthanise” themselves over a protracted period).
I was rather left wondering about the infected’s modus operandi. Obviously, they don’t eat their victims, but do they aim to kill them (as Don does Alice, rather “cutely” imitating Jim’s murderous retribution at the end of the original)? Or do they, very restrainedly, quit with the biting and general dismemberment once their victim shows infected status (which seems to be very swift)? And if they’re bleeding so profusely all the time, how can they possibly survive up to four weeks, even within the heightened reality of the horror movie?
Everyone here does what they can with little real meat on the bones. Carlyle is very good, until he’s rage-ified and he becomes a standard boogeyman. Harold Perrineau doesn’t shout “Walt!”, and gets the showstopper moment of hacking up infected with helicopter blades. Rose Byrne is very much in “roles Emily Blunt turned down” mode. Renner was on the cusp of greater fame. Which is a salient point, as some actors – Renner, Isaac, Elba – show out much better before they have transitioned to the bigger parts. Renner does a lot with a little here, but put him in a big studio picture and he’s frequently less than scintillating.
The movie’s conclusion, where 28 Days Later led the pack and rejuvenated the cycle, is now following others with its foreboding (Dawn of the Dead). Whether we see a third movie is anyone’s guess at this point (although Boyle et al have intimidated as much even quite recently). At this rate, rather than Months, it will be 28 Years Later.