The Reeler


May 10, 2007

28 Weeks Later

Surprisingly potent socio-political critique flips grisly bird at Bush administration

Fair enough, this summer's follow-up to 28 Days Later may not be as tightly crafted nor quite as thrilling as its predecessor. But in following George Romero's tradition of marrying zombie horror to socio-political critique, the surprisingly potent 28 Weeks Later bares some sharp teeth, a sharper mind and a grisly, half-chewed middle finger toward the Bush administration's War on Terror. Popcorn escapists might feel let down that the film's most shocking mayhem comes at the hands of a U.S. military force, but to anyone still reading the newspapers today, that's far gloomier than a blood-vomiting swarm of flesh-munching speed freaks. At least the latter don't kill their own kind.

28 Weeks Later serves as a blistering revisionist history to the tacked-on happy ending of its prequel. Months after the rage virus reduced London to a post-apocalyptic ghost town of washed-out colors, a NATO team has flown over to set up a high-rise "green zone" in the Isle of Dogs, declaring that the last of the infected have starved to death ("Mission Accomplished!"). A few hundred refugees have begun repopulating the quarantined compound, including Don (Robert Carlyle, a standout within the well-cast ensemble), introduced in the prologue as a gutless paterfamilias who has sacrificed his wife to monstrous hordes to save his own skin. Now in control as an all-access technician, Don is wracked with guilt when he looks into the faces of his kids Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), a heartbreakingly short reunion once the infrastructure is predictably breached by a new batch of infectees. "We've lost control," alerts an American officer, as if those words would ever be heard in conjunction with the ill-advised reconstruction efforts it frighteningly parallels. Not to stand on a soapbox here, but hey, the filmmakers started this diatribe!

Neither written by Alex Garland nor directed by Danny Boyle this time around (though both helped put the project together as executive producers, Boyle even shooting some second-unit scenes as a favor), 28 Weeks Later is actually the second feature for co-writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, whose nifty metaphysical thriller Intacto marked him as an up-and-coming visual stylist. His and cinematographer Enrique Chediak's birds-eye views, caffeinated tracking shots and low-lit murk will burn some wicked images into our collective skulls, though their go-to means of mass frenzy is a combo of strobing glimpses and shaky cams -- a technique so overused in cinema today that its simulated doc-realism now seems blatantly artificial and forces us all to sit back further just to see what's going on. Or is that intended as a meta-experiential metaphor, too?

If the film's technical innovations don't seem as fresh compared to Boyle's out-of-nowhere genre revamp, Fresnadillo's real-life relevancies alone could entertain Romero himself into a cynical chuckle, even if it's not the classic that the master's Land of the Dead will someday be hailed. Between the spraying down of a roof painted "I Am Here" that's reminiscent of post-Katrina negligence, the American grunts' sniping and firebombing of innocents to eradicate a bigger problem, and the candle-lit, eerily 9/11-like memorials that Spielberg mined far more dubiously in War of the Worlds, the only nail in the neo-con coffin that 28 Weeks Later doesn't manage is to script a direct link between the arrogant militia's interference and the creation of new homicidal monsters.

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