The announcement that director Danny Boyle would not return to helm the sequel to his zombie-inspired rager, “28 Days Later,” sent a skeptical buzz rampant throughout the blogospheres occupied by the film’s respectable and deserved cult following. That none of the original cast, including newly-established star Cillian Murphy (“The Wind that Shakes the Barley”), was returning, knelled the death bell before it saw its first flickers of life. There it was: Another reputable underdog ruined by the undesired, hastened promise of a franchise.
DIRECTED BY: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
STARRING: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, and Jeremy Renner
PLAYING AT: Area theaters
But Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, whose only serious prior screen credit is “Intacto” (rarely seen outside its home country, Spain), has for the most part dispelled the initial wave of trepidation that preceded the sequel’s voyage across the Atlantic.
“28 Weeks Later” doesn’t bear the typical markings of slopped-together follow ups that scar the majority of horror sequels, those whose naïve adherence to pre-established concepts (see, or not, the “Saw” series) ignore that the original’s appeal rested in, you know, their originality. And yet the new leadership doesn’t entirely yield a rewarding, new experience; this is, after all, still a franchise, and Mr. Boyle remains to the side of the camera with a prominent producing credit.
“28 Weeks” begins in the same dilapidated country house in which the original ended. A group of survivors, including Don (a brilliant, if too brief, Robert Carlyle) and his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack), have isolated themselves from the virus and the outside world contaminated by it. The low lit, fuzzed and handheld DV -maintained for the duration – portends the ensuing despair, even during fleeting moments of comfort, such as the appreciation of a red wine during dinner.
The name of Fresnadillo’s game is family, and Don and Alice share a nervous, guilt-ridden embrace over the thought of their children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), who escaped the virus while on a field trip in Spain. But the metaphor, even allegory, runs deeper; its roots spread further. An attack on the house by “the infected” (the film’s opening and most technically and conceptually inspired sequence) forces Don to abandon Alice. He ends up in a contained, “Green Zone” London as a civil servant aiding the “repatriation” of survivors, including his two children, amidst an omnipresent United States military. Ahem, allegory.
Don’s reunion with his children is spoiled by the unenviable responsibility of relaying their mother’s fate – a task whose weight skews the truth, causing in turn the hurtful pangs borne by a burdened heart and mind.
The inevitable second outbreak hurtles everything, “28 Weeks Later” included, into a frenzy of hurried decisions, and it all falls apart from there. An ostensibly fortified, though ultimately unprepared United States occupation, results in an unflattering response to catastrophe, all present-day parallels in check; and the familial bonds break in turn or remain ominously intact.
Fresnadillo deserves commendation for his unrelenting pursuit to expand the series, not just fit into it and portray the horrors that run deeper than shock and gory blood factories, (though “28 Weeks” is not without them).
There’s a pain that we can all share over the guilt that descends when in retrospect we think how we could have otherwise acted. In “28 Weeks” it manifests in two enraged hands gouging the eyes whose look reminds another of his shortcomings.
It’s a moment of intense guilt and frustration, perhaps done a bit over the top, and it evokes the same feeling when viewed: as if the eyes with which we watch injustice each day deserve purging. Only Fresnadillo fills our eyes with a bit too much at once and forgets that we do in fact still see it all, and that therein might lay the problem.