Film Reviews

28 Weeks Later Juan Carlos Fresnadillo

Rating - 9/10

There's a wooden cottage, boarded up and dark, filled with a few survivors. A boy runs up, pleading and scared, and they let him in out of kindness. But he has brought along with him uninvited guests, and soon these people find themselves under attack. They run; some make it, others don't. A man, in an act of cowardly selfishness, leaves his wife for dead, and, looking back over his shoulder, watches as she is dragged away from the window where she watches him flee with disbelieving eyes.

Some will tell you that it's better for a film to begin weak and go out strong than it is for a film to begin strong and teeter out. This might be true, but that's irrelevant here. It's more to illustrate my point: 28 Weeks Later begins in such an alluring, terrifying, climactic way that it's easy to imagine that it could fall prey to the criticism of strong to weak ratio; it doesn't. Instead, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo takes 28 Weeks Later (sequel to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, one of the best films of 2003 and one of the best horror films of the new millennium) and builds off its breathtaking opener to become an adrenaline rush of horror, of both jump-out scares and psychological alike, that takes its predecessor's hopeful ending and turns it on its head.

It's been six months since the last of the infected have died off from starvation. Don (Robert Carlyle) lives in a quarantined section of London that is in the process of repopulation and is reunited with his children, teenager Tammy (Imogen Poots) and 12-year-old Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), who happened to be overseas on a field trip when the first outbreak occurred. Their mother Alice (Catherine McCormack) fell prey to the infected when left for dead in the film's opener. Just as things are working themselves out in London, a series of events brings a contagious survivor out of hiding and once again the disease is released. Orders are sent out for an extermination of the whole population to stop the spread of the infection, so Tammy and Andy, along with a military doctor Scarlet (Rose Byrne) and American army soldier Doyle (Jeremy Renner), attempt to flee the city before it is wiped out by the military or the infected get to them.

Where 28 Days Later was obviously meant as a standalone film, taking its time to give characters downtime for character development and for hopeful speculation, 28 Weeks Later barely lets the audience breathe before it throws scene after scene for its clip 99 minutes. Where this could have easily been the film's downfall, leaving little time to get to care for the characters and their journey, Fresnadillo and co-writers Rowan Joffe and Jesus Olmos treat their characters with the same respect they treat the action. Where today's American horror films fall to cliché stereotypes and caricatures, Fresnadillo makes sure his characters are 3-dimensional and never act out in stupid, irrational ways. They also take the time to paint a subtle political view on the military, which choose to shoot anyone without consequence, an all-too-realistic subtext that mirrors the war going on today where innocent lives are lost daily.

None of this could have been done without strong performances, seeing as the action could very well overtake the humanistic aspect of the film, but all involved are more than willing to throw themselves into the line of fire. Robert Carlyle is an emotional standout as Don who is torn between guilt for leaving his wife for dead and keeping these cowardly secrets from his children. Relative newcomers Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton have a daunting task at being believable siblings and being plausibly terrified, and they pull it off with aplomb. Special mention should go to Muggleton who never once drops his guard or acts less than natural; he is a find as Andy and proves that he is more than capable of carrying the film. As Scarlet and Doyle (a tribute to 28 Days Later's Danny Boyle?), Byrne and Renner are realistic at their plight to save the children at all costs, doing rational things in terrifying circumstances.

But most of the film's audiences are coming for the rush, and the film never fails to deliver. Its first half is filled to the brim with jump-out-of-your-seat moments while the second half makes way for psychological scares. They mesh to make for a satisfying and plausible horror film that never goes for clichés or take an easy way out of a situation. It helps that the audience cares for the core characters, which the film takes enough time to flesh out and make sympathetic, and proves early on that not one is safe from harm. Even the military is used as a truthful, if belligerent point of the plot that never falters in its truthful display of how they react to the outbreak. If the film falters in any way, it's the quick cuts that make some of the scenes incomprehensible, but this is a slight miscalculation that doesn't take away from the general overview of the film.

With the aid of composer John Murphy and cinematographer Enrique Chadian, Fresnadillo has a made a worthy sequel that doesn't feel like a company cashing in on its predecessor. It surpasses 28 Days Later in scope, emotionally and stylistically, making a more profound emotional impact by the time the credits roll. The ending, while at once hopeful and low-key in Danny Boyle's film, doesn't cop out for this same effect here, and instead hauntingly and plausibly keeps the film downbeat and open-ended. This only strengthens a film that surpasses the normal conventions for a sequel and any horror film in general by not opting out for more characters and instead focusing in on people we care about. Like last year's The Descent, from the time the lights dim to the time they come back on, 28 Weeks Later succeeds where so many American horror films fail and creates an apocalyptic Hell worth getting excited over.