Fox // 2007 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // November 15th, 2007
When days turn into weeks...the horror returns.
Danny Boyle's frenetic take on the zombie genre came as an unexpected surprise back in 2003. Boasting a documentary-like cinematography and a tense and gritty texture throughout, 28 Days Later revealed the aftermath of a man-made virus -- Rage -- that is loosed across London, giving rise to voracious beings who once were human but are now driven to viciously attack and infect others. It began with a single infection that quickly and exponentially left London desolate and diseased in only 28 days. In this follow-up exploration, we're guided by Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto) back to London at a time when it seems the virus is dying out and the surviving Londoners previously evacuated can now return to rebuild and repopulate their city...or can they?
After being attacked by "ragers" in a desolate farmhouse, Don Harris (Robert Carlyle, Eragon) escapes with his life, leaving behind his own wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack, The Moon and the Stars), in a shocking act of indecision and cowardice. Six months later, Don is being reunited with his children (Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton), who were waiting in a Spanish refugee camp until the rage threat could be contained. Now that the infected have all died off due to lack of food in ravaged London, the U.S. military has secured a small section of the city and is allowing original residents to return to restart their lives. But when the children sneak away to their former home and find their mother, Alice, still alive and having survived the rager attack, they begin to question their father's account of how he had been unable to save her. When reunited, Don seeks the distraught Alice's forgiveness through an apologetic kiss, unaware that she survived only because she is immune to the rage virus yet is an active carrier of the disease. Since the virus can be spread through even a tiny exchange of saliva, London is about to become overrun by the crazed infected killers once again.
For those who enjoy a sequel that picks up immediately at the conclusion of a previous picture, 28 Weeks Later does just that. The opening sequence in the farmhouse is actually set in the same time frame as the first film and, then, after Don escapes, the narrative fast-forwards six months to find the guilt-stricken man reuniting with his children and returning to London. In this manner, then, Fresnadillo and his team also construct the overall production design to likewise retain the once-inventive style of Boyle before them. While it would seem commendable to continue the previous director's approach in this follow-up, the fact is this feels like more of the same except without the impact of this being a first-time experience. Boyle's methods caught us squarely off guard and imposed a feeling of helplessness and no escape. After having experienced that in 28 Days Later, viewers needed to see something similarly innovative in the sequel; it didn't.
It's a difficult line to walk in the making of sequels, choosing whether to retain what made a first film so popular, in look and feel, or to go in an entirely different direction without restating what had already gone before save for a few expository sequences to bring the current audience up to date. Fresnadillo appears to have attempted this by focusing on Don and his family while also playing some heavy handed politics vis-à-vis the U.S. military occupation, but it's clear he never cuts the umbilical from Boyle. Therefore, the picture retreads familiar ground although it attempts to be more savage and dire in its unfolding. That "brave new direction," however, only serves to deliver a disjointed experience where long sequences of human interaction are suddenly disrupted by plainly telegraphed "boo" moments followed by frantic attacks where the "infected camera" makes it difficult for the viewer to track the situation.
Undeniably, the parallel to the ongoing Iraq conflict serves as political subtext here yet the amateurish infusion of such blatant editorializing plays more like another slanted CNN hit-and-run assault at the current administration. I don't take exception to the film's apparent outrage with the present handling of the foreign war but, rather, to the lack of thoughtful introspection that might have explored the situation from a different perspective, possibly introducing an "untold story" of what's transpiring at the human level within the theater of conflict. But, no, all we get is a finger-wagging at an unprepared U.S. military that has little grasp of the ground situation and hasn't a plan for properly quelling the infected "insurgents" in the face of conflict. When trouble does arise, the military quickly resorts to fire-at-will tactics, eliminating anything that moves, infected or not. Frankly, this is a weak thread to attach to and offers audiences nothing new than the din they hear on the 24-7 news outlets night after night. Ultimately, this will pigeonhole the picture going forward, leaving it to exist as another anti-administration assertion leading up to the 2008 national election.
Don't misunderstand -- this isn't a defense for a presiding American administration and a war that has been rightly swirled in controversy nor is this a hijacking of a DVD review to further a personal political perspective. Rather, the sentiment being presented here is that this sequel didn't seize the opportunity to delve into the sheer terror of a biological disaster and study the human condition and survival instinct in a meaningful way. In fact, there's very little "humanity" on display here, leaving the audience struggling to find a connection point with the characters, that being either through pride or pathos. If the intent was to pose the tired question -- Who's more dangerous, the infected hordes or the insensitive military? -- it's simply too trite to make an impact in the current social consciousness.
The deal-breaker for me, though, centers on the gore. While there's plenty of blood spray and visible regurgitation of the red stuff by the infected hordes, Fresnadillo's hand-held visuals coupled with quick-cuts that are faster than the zombies cheats us of a good look. There's no use arguing that the director was summoning our "mind's eye" to fill in the blanks of what we thought we saw; he has gore visible on the screen but if you blink, you'll miss it. For hardened gorehounds, this simply won't suffice. The attraction of screen gore to the gorehound is the opportunity to analyze a "gag" in regards to its realistic qualities, technically and thematically, to determine how real it ultimately looks. Gore-godfathers Herschell Gordon Lewis (The Wizard of Gore) and Tom Savini (Day of the Dead) understand the carnage is a large draw in these sorts of films and have provided lingering views of their offerings of the unpleasant. New gore-master Gregory Nicotero and the team at KNB (Planet Terror) are furthering that commitment to fans by not only showing incredibly inventive new ways to vivisect a human but also manage to turn up the lights so we can see every strand, sinew, and separation of a mass that was once a human body (or some part thereof).
Technically speaking, this new Blu-ray disc of 28 Weeks Later is competent yet not compelling in this high-def presentation. As expected, the film employs different source elements including digital video as well as some 16mm stock to impart its mock-journalistic style, therefore bearing film grain that alternately intensifies then subsides as the story is revealed. There's plenty of textural detail, however, further adding to the uncomfortable sense of grit, grime, and fluidic excretions that abound. The colors are generally well-rendered in a muted palette but, again, waver over the course of the film and become occasionally vivid. None of this inconsistency can be blamed on the 1080p / AVC encoded transfer; it's simply the original production design. Audio is offered via the preferred DTS-HD 5.1 Lossless Master Audio mix but never is able to show its potential due to the rather lackluster sound design. Dialog is clear and discernible but the soundstage never expands noticeably beyond the front-heavy delivery. As for extras, the good news is that all bonus features offered on the previous standard definition disc have been ported over here in their entirety. There are no Blu-ray exclusive features, sadly, but at least the package is on par with the SD offering.
Sequels are a tricky business and far too many fail for obvious reasons: greed. The situation here is interesting since the topic matter is easily adaptable into many outings telling of concurrent situations and dilemmas that could occur within the same time setting. Fresnadillo seemed to attempt this but never seemed to trust his ability to tell his tale away from the now-recognizable earmarks of Boyle's original. Nevertheless, there is still some compelling quality within 28 Weeks Later to make it worth a look. Hopefully a third go-round (and you can feel it's coming, can't you?) will take advantage of the human drama potential and perhaps even dispel the hand-held approach to share an alternate experience of this devastating situation.
In the end, Fresnadillo's film isn't a complete misfire, just a miscalculation hampered by a lack of confidence to run with the material. When compared to its predecessor, this sequel actually appears to occur a scant 28 seconds later, never convincing us that it's to be taken as a bona fide extension of the original.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurette: "Code Red: The Making of 28 Weeks Later"
* Featurette: "The Infected"
* Featurette: "Getting Into the Action"
* Animated Chapters from 28 Days Later: The Aftermath
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site