28 Days Later (2003) and 28 Weeks Later (2007)

July 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

Playing on our fears about infectious diseases, 28 Days Later is utterly gripping, compelling as both a horror film but also a film that has a few statements to make.  A virus referred to as “rage” turns people into rabid, adrenalin-filled hostile zombies, and spreads so quickly that by the time our central character Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes in hospital there are only pockets of survivors fighting for survival.  And it has to be said, whoever invented the sprinting zombie has seriously heightened intensity in this particular genre.  Jim meets other survivors, and finally they discover a small base camp of around ten soldiers, which is ultimately a weird little microcosm of society: a slightly mad leader, one compassionate and thoughtful personality, some followers, and one dude that make the infected population outside the camp look pretty good by comparison.  There’s even a slavery theme thrown in the works, with one infected soldier kept on a leash, to see if they ever starve to death. Even the very definition of infected is called into question — couldn’t someone utterly lacking in compassion arguably be said to be infected with something?

The first film also has a touch of mystery, given that the viewer learns along with Jim exactly why the busiest streets of London are deserted, and has lighter moments that break up an almost unbearable tension — here’s our crew of survivors joyfully rampaging through an abandoned grocery store with the first real food they’ve found in weeks, or here’s a character that can still crack a joke. Finally, despite a lot of understandable bleakness for a nearly-the-end-of-the-world film, the end allows some hope, and the idea that however brutal the epidemic, there will be survivors (there are alternate endings on the DVD, but I think the one ultimately stuck on the film is the best one).

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I think 28 Weeks Later has any of these things, really. Watching a few of the extras, the filmmakers describe it as “a lot more action, a lot more gore,” and “a survival film.” Um, sure. The thing is, the first one was a survival film, and managed so much more it almost defies classification. This time around it’s a decent budget and a slickly made film once again, but I didn’t catch much in the way of themes or ideas. And forget lighter moments to break up the tension, 28 Weeks Later seems to delight in introducing heroic characters and then giving them all the most horrific deaths. Finally, the end can only be described as a blatant set-up for a possible third film.  So, let’s call this the franchise that didn’t need to be a franchise.  But rent the first film, it’s an edge of your seat ride, and the smartest horror film I’ve ever seen.

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