After the trauma of watching the Yanks get swept by the Rockies, I needed some relaxing fun, and so my brother T and I went out to the movies. As a married person, my cinema choices are mainly determined by La Chiquita's tastes--the world of movies is divided into the films my wife will watch, and those she won't. Since she decided to stay home, I was left shuffling through the long list of movies in which she has no interest--and nothing was quite as unappealing to her as a gory British zombie flick.
So we went to see 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to 2002's 28 Days Later. The latter was the best horror film I'd seen in a year beginning with a two. The setup was simple: a young man, who was in an accident, wakes up from a coma to find that London is abandoned. He's woken up four weeks into an epidemic of something called the Rage virus, which turns anyone infected into a psychotic zombie. The disease is bloodborne, which is unfortunate since the infected are constantly drooling, vomiting, or weeping blood, and have an awful tendency to want to snack on human flesh.
Yeah, I can hear you yawning. The zombie movie thing has been done to death (no pun intended) to the point that no cliche has been left unturned. But what made Days special was that it worked on several levels. It was a good horror movie, with genuine scares and next to no campiness to dilute the terror. I caught it in a late show on a weeknight near Penn Station, and the walk home after was genuinely creepy. Like most thoughtful horror films, it was really about human beings rather than monsters--following a group of survivors the viewer got to know and care about pretty well, and showing how they and other humans dealt with the apocalyptic events they were facing. And director Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting fame) shot the movie in the manner of an independent art film, using grainy digital cameras and tweaking the color palette to give the whole thing a surreal quality.
So the sequel (which we'll call Weeks, for simplicity's sake) comes along, and none of the (surviving) original cast is in the film. Bad sign. The cast is largely filled with unknowns, other than Robert Carlyle--a good actor, but usually not a leading-man type. Worse sign. And Boyle isn't directing--although he's listed as an executive producer, so it's not like he's abandoned the project completely--and he's been replaced with a Spanish director (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo) with a very short resume.
What's that? When the light in the display flashes red like that it's a warning?
For all that, Weeks opens in a promising fashion. We start during the time period of the original movie, and Carlyle is with a pocket of survivors (unrelated to the characters from Days) who've holed up in the British countryside. Everything's pretty normal, up until a few hundred infected come kicking in the walls. The scene goes from domestic comfort to violence, gore and chaos in just seconds, Carlyle escapes, but only by the skin of his teeth, and at great personal cost.
After that bravura opening, the time shifts to the eponymous time frame, when England's been declared disease-free, and a U.S. military force is in charge of rebuilding and securing an area of London to house British refugees who were fortunate enough to be out of the country when the virus originally got loose. When we're first introduced to this setup, through U.S. snipers stationed on London's rooftops, using their sniper scopes to peep on their charges, it's pretty obvious that we're being set up for some form of Iraq allegory. Indeed, the U.S. military is the only authority we see in this repopulated London--apparently, no member of the British government or military was out of the country when the outbreak happened.
Say the fact, the only civilian authority we see, is Carlyle, who has a vague infrastructure management job in the refugee apartment complex, which conveniently gives him an all-access pass...to everything. Think that will be part of the plot later? Anyway, among the refugees are Carlyle's teen daughter and young son, played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, who come to London as the only children living in the "green zone."
[Brief aside: who names British child actors? It's like these kids were named in the hopes they'd be cast in a Harry Potter film.]
No sooner do the kids show up than everyone stops acting like they have half a brain. The old horror movie conventions where you're practically shouting at the screen, "Don't go in there! Don't touch that!"--like you're the parent of a demented toddler--are in full effect. Naturally, the virus returns, the infected go on a spree, things get out of control, and the U.S. military is unprepared. Their contingency plan in case of this scenario is simultaneously simplistic, stupid, ineffective and draconian. But seeing this social commentary put into action is none too exciting, either, and it swallows up screen time that could've been used developing characters.
We learn a little about Carlyle's character--we know, based on the opening, that he's fibbing a bit to his kids about why they have only one parent--but midway through the film the focus shifts to the kids, and a couple of U.S. soldiers who are helping to protect them, both from the zombies and from the American army. Sadly, these four characters are made from some pretty thin cardboard, saddled with lines like: "They're executing Code Red. Step 1: Kill the infected. Step 2: Containment. If containment cannot be done then Step 3: Extermination."
Uh, thanks for the exposition, there. It's helpful.
There's nothing in this movie hat approaches the visual aesthetic Boyle brought to Days. Fresnadillo's method for shooting action is to get everything in extreme closeup and shake the camera vigorously, adding a strobe effect and copious jets of blood. At first this is an interesting way to convey the confusion of battle. Later, you're wondering why this guy won't actually let you see what's happening in the film. Later still, you're searching your pockets for dramamine.
I know to horror fans most of these concerns may seem trivial. They say, "Forget the high fallutin' stuff: was it scary?" Well, yeah, parts of Weeks were scary. But then you get the bad decisions, and the plot holes, and the shakycam, and the tension and fear are replaced by annoyance. The film's climactic sequence is so irritating, it's like Fresnadillo is in the seat behind yours, poking you in the back of the head with his finger, saying, "Is this annoying you? [Poke.] Is it annoying you now? [Poke.] How about now?"
Yeah, it's annoying. Overall, the way the Yankees lost on Thursday was scarier than this, so it's not recommended. Unless Boyle takes back the reins, I'd say you can count me out of 28 Months Later...