The 2007 follow-up to Danny Boyle’s genre redefining zombie flick, 28 Days Later, probably deserves a fresh viewing. I’m saying this because I hadn’t watched the film in over four years when I received it as a gift (in my stocking for Christmas). Who isn’t excited to receive a.) movies and/or b.) zombie related presents? But, it’s also my philosophy to try and look at everything without the shackles of expectation, which I’d admittedly not been able to do the first time around with this film. Being a sequel to such a brilliant film, 28 Weeks Later had a bloody lot to live up to. And for me, sadly, it didn’t … at least not initially. In fact, it left me downright irate.
So, late last night I decided to sit down and attempt to watch 28 Weeks Later with fresh eyes.
Set six months following the deadly Rage virus outbreak in London, 28 Days Later doesn’t exactly pick up where it’s predecessor left off. We find a husband, Don, (played by Robert Carlyle) and a wife, Alice, (Catherine McCormack) making dinner in the cozy, albeit dark, kitchen of a quaintly quintessential English cottage. It’s romantic, like they’re the only two people in the world. Oh, wait. They kinda, sorta are. Not sweet. No, not sweet at all – try horrible and mangled and depressing. As they concoct a pasta dinner (complete with wine and after dinner chocolates) for themselves and those they share the house with (an elderly couple and a few stragglers), we learn Don and Alice have children who narrowly escaped the outbreak because they were sent away on a school trip.
Their idyllic refuge is disturbed when an orphaned child comes knocking on their door and Alice, who can think only of her children being at the mercy of others, demands he be let in. Unbeknownst to the group, the child is being hunted by a group of the infected. Soon, they are crashing through the windows, rampaging through the house, up the stairs into the room where Alice and the young, newly rescued boy are attempting to hide. Don gets to the pair as the room is being penetrated by a group of the infected. Despite the screaming, heart breaking pleas of his wife for help, Don flees.
Don abandons his wife:
It is this moment that initially made me hate the film. That moment when he turns and locks the door and his wife screams “Don!” The betrayal was so real I couldn’t stand to look at Don (or watch any of Carlyle’s films for ages) for the remainder of the film.
The humanness of it, though, the emotion is so true, so heartbreakingly palpable that when I watch it the second time, I am in that field running with Don. I’m running with him to get to his children, to survive. As the hoard of infected form behind him, then on the hillside next to him, in the water beside him as he starts the boat, you realize if he hadn’t left at that moment, he and his wife would’ve both been dead.
Make no mistake. I still hate him for leaving his wife. This time around I’m able to get into Don’s head space a bit. I let myself hate him but I also try to understand why. This was a risk for the filmmakers. And despite waiting for Don’s moment of redemption at some future moment in the film, a redemption that never comes, the viewer is “rewarded” when he gets his comeuppance.
Months pass. The infected starve. Eventually a US-led NATO team takes control of London and things gradually return to a kind of heavily guarded normality. Enter here Chief Medical Officer, Scarlet (Rose Byrne) and sniper Doyle (Jeremy Renner). The powers that be have decided the threat of the virus has passed and that it is time to allow citizens to return. This includes Don’s two children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton).
It’s anything but a happy family reunion, though, when Tammy and Andy’s questions about the fate of their mother are unsatisfactorily answered by their Dad in his lofty new bachelor/penthouse digs. The following day, the two lift a scooter and head out to their old house – outside the safe zone – where they find their mother hidden away and kinda sorta infected. Only, not. It seems the same genetic anomaly that makes her eyes different colors (one blue, one green) also allows the virus to live within her. Alice, who was bitten by an infected as Don claimed, has become carrier.
The Rage virus has not disappeared as CMO Scaret has feared.
When Don hears his wife is alive he attempts to see and reconcile with her, he is infected after kissing her. And you guessed it, all hell breaks loose.
28 Weeks Later presents many a moral dilemma for the characters and there is never a satisfactory pay off for anyone. Even when everything is sacrificed, very little is gained. The story is dense and when the film is over, you’ll feel it.
The cast is gold – from Carlyle to Byrne. Jeremy Renner gives military realness while managing to also to show he has a heart.
The action sequences are tight and tense but not always driven by the infected as was (mostly) the case in 28 Days Later. If anything, 28 Weeks Later gives the audience the feeling of the initial outbreak, the absolute horror of it, which was skimmed over in the original film because the lead character, Jim (Cillian Murphy) had been in a coma. This makes the film exciting and fresh in the ways it needed to be in order to be a rightful sequel to 28 Days Later.
Ultimately, the emotional/moral conflict created by Don’s betrayal of his wife in the opening sequence of the film sets a dark tone from which (for me, at least) the film is unable to recover. In the end, it is this betrayal that makes for the real horror of the film, not the virus.
Wiki facts: 28 Weeks Later
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Rent or Buy 28 Weeks Later on Amazon
Watch the opening scene on YouTube: 28 Weeks Later
Listen to the 28 Weeks Later theme by John Murphy: