28 Weeks Later
"Focus on character gives way to the temptations of a bigger budget – more bangs and gore but markedly less suspense."

Of all the things guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of the film critic, few loom quite as large as the sequel without the original director, or cast.

The prospect is rendered even more off-putting when the original in question is one of the best horror movies of recent years. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was a solid gold idea (fast zombies!) brought to life with flair, imagination, characters you believed in and cared about - plus a very high ratio of pant-wettingly scary moments.

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A hard act to follow – especially when Boyle’s Sunshine has recently wowed the critics and is still putting bums on seats. So I approached Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s new take on the world of the Infected with some trepidation. And if his effort doesn’t match the original it’s certainly miles away from the crass, machine tooled, American-aimed cash in you might have feared.

First the good news. The film’s development came from a desire by the original triumvirate – Boyle, screenwriter Alex Garland and producer Andrew Macdonald – to move the concept on. All three have producer credits on the sequel and Boyle shot some second unit work, including part of the opening sequence (see if you can spot his scenes; I couldn’t).

And the director is certainly no production line hack brought in to photocopy the look but ignore the heart of the original. Fresnadillo first came to the attention of British audiences with the ingenious thriller Intacto, about a group of people with supernatural levels of good luck. The theme of the randonmness or otherwise of survival and the burdens it carries is one of many interesting ideas and directorial flourishes he brings to the party.

But a good follow up to such a basically character driven piece needs to have the right kind of people as its protagonists and the right actors playing them - 28 Weeks Later scores big on both counts. The couple at the heart of the story, Don and Alice, are played by Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack, for my money two of the most talented and versatile British actors around (and Carlyle’s presence , given his association with Boyle and Macdonald on Trainspotting, still all three’s finest hour, is extra reassurance that this is a quality product).

We first meet them at the height of the Infected plague, in a long, intimate scene where they prepare a dinner of foraged food by candlelight. Their loving relationship is patiently and subtly laid out, but so is the growing air of unease. They are part of a motley group of survivors holed up in a Home Counties semi and when Alice demands that they let a desperate young boy in, the Infected come too.

What follows matches anything in the original for sheer bottle-in-the-face visceral drama. Finally, only Don and Alice are left - and Don saves himself rather than take a suicidal risk to rescue his wife.

Six months down the line, the last Infected have died of starvation, the quarantine on Britain has been lifted and a US led Nato force has moved into London to begin the first stages of reconstruction. Don has survived and his past as a building site manager means he is one of the first 500 Brits chosen for the new Green Zone on the Isle of Dogs, helping to "keep the place running" while the clean up begins.

He is reunited with his teenage daughter Tammy (Imogen Poots) and 11-year-old son Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton). He tells them of their mother’s death but downplays his own actions. Initially excited by being given the run of a luxury apartment block, the kids soon grow as bored as the GIs patrolling around them. They sneak across the river, desperate to see the family home. There they discover mum is waiting for them.

To tell you more would give away major spoilers. Suffice to say that the key twist this time around is genetic immunity to the virus, and the soldiers soon have plenty to do...

It's here that the commendable focus on character gives way to the temptations of a bigger budget, more bangs and gore, but markedly less suspense. There are some striking moments – scenes of an air cavalry napalm attack after the Green Zone has descended into chaos and a chemical weapons "clean up" of central London call to mind images of the Blitz and the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch. But the climactic chase has too many logic gaps to fully convince.

Still, there’s definitely enough of interest to recommend fans of the original to have a look. The concept is strong enough to bear exploring more aspects of it (sympathy for the Infected, the morality of survival) and to be honest Jim and Selina’s story in the original came to a natural conclusion (whichever ending you preferred!)

The Iraq parallels are subtly suggested without being hammered home. The US troops are no caricatured dumbass grunts either, but, as in Aliens, three-dimensional human beings who find their professional training totally inadequate for the horrors they encounter.

Fresnadillo lacks Boyle’s eye for the strikingly beautiful image, or telling detail, but he’s produced an honourable entry into the sequels canon. Not quite Godfather 2, then, but certainly not Jaws 2 either.

Reviewed on: 28 Apr 2007
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28 Weeks Later packshot
Six months after the events of 28 Days Later a US-led force begins a tentative attempt to repopulate Britain.
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Read more 28 Weeks Later reviews:

Anton Bitel ****1/2

Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Writer: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Jesús Olmo, Enrique López Lavigne

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton, Rose Byrne, Harold Perrineau, Idris Elba, Jeremy Renner, Emily Beecham, Garfield Morgan, Amanda Walker, Philip Scott

Year: 2007

Runtime: 91 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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