zombiesRobert Carlyle28 Days Later
28 Weeks Later
Medium: film
Year: 2007
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Writer: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Jesus Olmo
Keywords: horror, SF, zombies
Country: UK, Spain
Actor: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner
Format: 99 minutes
Series: 28 Days Later
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0463854/
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 18 April 2008
I remember thinking 28 Days Later (2002) was quite good. It even has Christopher Eccleston in it. I hadn't expected a sequel, but five years later that's what we got, with a Spanish director and even Robert Carlysle after he'd turned down a role in the original. For those who haven't seen them, these films are basically zombie films with a twist. The difference is that the rampaging hordes ain't undead and will indeed soon starve to death since their idea of a healthy diet isn't exactly what your doctor would recommend. Instead they're sick. It's a really, really nasty disease called Rage which is passed on by contact with bodily fluids and within about a minute will turn you into a ravening mindless cannibalistic killing machine.
If you catch it, you'll also be able to run like the dickens.
The first film basically killed off Britain. There were apparent mentions of infection in Paris and New York, but in fact those were lies to prevent a mass stampede. It may be the plague to end all plagues, but by the same token it's not exactly hard to spot. The instant nuclear effect of Rage means you should know immediately if your plane or boat were carrying anyone who had it. 28 weeks later, the infected are all dead and the US Army is organising the repopulation of Britain. Everything seems to be okay.
However of course it isn't. Rage's instant effectiveness is also its big drawback as a horror macguffin, so unsurprisingly they've found a way around it. I'll be going into vague spoiler territory here, incidentally, so feel free to bail out now if you want to know nothing. It turns out that it's not impossible for someone to have no symptoms yet still be a carrier and infectious. Hello, carnage.
Unfortunately this creates a story problem. A major character is a carrier and yet no one puts two and two together, even though it's obvious from about the halfway point to anyone in the audience who's not asleep. This wouldn't be so bad if we weren't seemingly meant to be cheering them on. Had they been a son of a bitch, no problem. It would be just another reason to want them dead. However the character in question appears meant to be an audience identification figure, despite the fact that we want the US Army to blast 'em into pulp. The second half of the film isn't as involving as I think it should be and I think this is part of the reason why. And yes, all this third-act gormlessness from pretty much all the rest of the cast gives rise to results as horrific as you'd think.
Another problem is with the action scenes. They're all shaky-cam footage cut so fast that it's almost subliminal. This is good at conveying panic and desperation. At being scary... not so much. It's pretty clear that something nasty's going on, but it's hard to be scared because you can barely see it! This is particularly unfortunate because often the quiet scenes are excruciatingly tense. When they really cranked it up, I was getting terrified at pretty much nothing at all. Even as it stands, with its stroboscope editing, this is a hard-as-nails horror film that goes like a mad bastard. If only the action scenes had had the same impact, I'd have been hailing it as a masterpiece.
It probably helps to be British. I'm sure having seen 28 Days Later is an advantage too, but that's pretty much a gimme. The footage of a deserted London is very effective and in a different way to the original. It's unnerving to see Heathrow airport manned by American soldiers. Then there's Robert Carlysle, who's pretty much our generation's Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing. Here we have a British actor with an ever-growing body of genre work who's strong enough to make his films worth watching just for him. His breakout role was of course Begbie in Trainspotting, but he's not just doing that every time. Instead he's going from strength to strength. Anthony Hopkins would have counted if he'd been more of a horror hound, but personally I think of him as a great mainstream actor who happens to have done Hannibal Lecter.
As for Robert Carlysle, he soars above a difficulty that would have laid low many other actors. Near the beginning, his character has to make a horrible but understandable decision. After that his character could easily have come across as a bastard or a blubbering angst-machine, but Carlysle pitches it exactly right.
The US Army is fun, too. They're not saints, but they have a horrible job to do and they do it as efficiently as you could ask for. What's more, they're capable of making the hard decisions when everything goes to hell. That's where they themselves become scary, but it's hard to disagree with the logic behind their orders. It's an extreme situation. It's also an interesting film to watch (and make!) at a time when America's taking flak from all sides for sending its forces into Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.
Oh, and I'd never seen anyone do that with a helicopter before.
This is a tough, violent movie with lots of tension and gore. Its second half isn't as powerful as it might have been since the most sympathetic character is a walking time bomb in need of shooting, but I don't think anyone was ever going to take this for chick lit. I can't promise that you'll particularly care what happens to the people in this film, but it'll still be shocking to see it explode in front of you.