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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

28 Weeks Later (review)

Scenes from the Global War on Whatever

And so as the world seemingly renews its dedication to taking itself straight to hell, even our horror movies suddenly seem less like mere entertainments and more like real-life fever dreams, reflecting back to us our own ugliness, our own shock at how everything has reeled out of control, our own arrogance in thinking that we can control the deep complexity of everyday chaos.
Call it 28 Weeks Later, but it’s the five years on from the horrifying 28 Days Later that have made all the difference: we are all immeasurably more anxious and on edge post-Katrina, mired in Iraq, nervous about tainted spinach and poisoned pet food and dying honeybees and April heat waves (as our friends in Europe just endured). And all that gnawing fear and nervous unease is roiling through this chillingly matter-of-fact nightmare of a movie, like a CNN breaking-news report that just hasn’t broken yet.

It’s six months after the Rage virus has been eradicated in England, or so humanity’s overblown sense of superiority over sneaky and capricious Nature is quick to believe: as if something so inherently, depressingly human as anger-gone-viral could ever be destroyed. The last of the ferocious, mindless Rage zombies has long since died of starvation in the quarantined U.K., and now a NATO force has moved in to start the massive cleanup — burning millions of bodies, for starters — and prepare the way for British refugees to start returning home.

There’s no messing around in the snappish, clipped pace director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo takes up, taking over from 28 Days Later’s Danny Boyle (though Boyle remains onboard as a producer). Folks start arriving home in “District One,” a safe zone established on the Isle of Dogs in London. Engineer Don (Robert Carlyle: Eragon, The Beach), who survived the Rage plague in ways that haunt his sleep, meets his kids (Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton) as they return from Spain, where they’d been fortunate enough to be vacationing when infection broke out; the family reunion is uneasy. Army doctor Scarlet (Rose Byrne: The Dead Girl, Marie Antoinette) is deeply troubled about what she’s seeing in the blood samples in her microscope. American soldier Doyle (Jeremy Renner: The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, S.W.A.T.) is uncomfortable with this strange duty babysitting returnees in this desolate city.

Oh, didn’t I mention? That NATO force is headed up by the American military, and Fresnadillo (who also cowrote the script with a handful of other writers) doesn’t beat around the bush — or around the Bush — with his potent imagery of American uniforms swaggering through a foreign city, and later — as everything starts going to hell, the Rage virus springs up again, and containment measures must be taken — shooting wildly and randomly into crowds of civilians. Now, this is not an anti-American thing but a cold, bald recognition of the terrible fact that distinguishing between friendlies and enemies is not so easy as perhaps it used to be (especially when the battleground is one of our own engineering), whether in a Rage-plagued London where running people may be either escaping mad zombies or mad zombies themselves, or in an England in which the young men who turn bus-and-subway-bomber are the young men who live next door, or, you know, elsewhere. The desperate unknowableness of whom to trust, and the sad authenticity of how fragile trust is to begin with, and how we so typically are the cause of its loss: this takes even more devious twists here, 28 Weeks Later, than it did in the first film. Five years later, this is a bleak cinematic likeness of what is, I suspect, our most potent of contemporary suspicions: that to give in to compassion, to humanity, to love is a death sentence.

For among Fresnadillo’s startling, all-too-familiar imagery — soldiers with gun in airports; the utter eeriness of major city deserted and garbage-strewn — is what may be the most unsettling moment of the film. It’s a kiss, a simple kiss, one of the most ironically compelling screen kisses ever: in this world of blood-and-saliva-borne infection, it becomes a thing of horror, taking away the most simple, most necessary comfort we can take when the world goes to hell. It’s the most dreadful, most unforgettable moment in a dread-inspiring, haunting film.

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MPAA: rated R for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
  • Brad

    First-time responder. Yes, you have a new fan, and not just because of this review.

    Seriously though, I was actually planning to give this flick a pass. I wasn’t crazy about the first one (not bad, but only “good”), and this had “try-too-hard” sequel practically written on it. Or so I thought. However, based on the fact that in reading your other reviews I often found myself agreeing with you, I suppose I can set aside a couple of hours Friday night.

    And if you’ve let me down, I promise I’ll come back and…well, not do much, really. I might roll my eyes really hard.

  • squashua

    I read that the bees are dying because of a bacterial infection (yay, it’s not cell phones after all!) and it’s treatable with a mostly proven, common, anti-bacterial agent.

    So we’re probably good there.

    ‘course, we’ve got zilch against “The Rage”.

  • Going to see this tonight. Looking forward to it now. Thanks!

  • I watched this movie last Monday afternoon… and I thought it was really good, possibly even better than the first movie.

    I do have a couple of nits to pick, though: If you knew how easily the Rage virus spreads, why wouldn’t you have a standing order to incinerate anyone found alive after 6 months of living in a plague zone? The only logical reason for anyone to have survived that long is if they’re an immune carrier, and that’s even worse than the Infected themselves. They should have torched Alice and the house she was found it, no questions asked. Forget trying to find a “cure” for the virus… just eradicate it completely.

    And even if you didn’t do that, why in the world would you leave such a survivor completely unguarded? Honestly.

  • MaryAnn

    Isn’t it possible that a survivor could be immune and also NOT a carrier? Seems like that’s definitely a person you’d want to study…

  • Even if there were a survivor who was immune and not a carrier, do you really think it’d be possible to transfer that immunity to anyone else, given enough time and research? Somehow, I doubt it. And given the risks involved, the potential payoff seems minimal.

    Besides, the discussion between Scarlett (the doctor) and (I think) the general established that the Rage virus never managed to jump to any other species. (They did not mention the original test lab monkeys from the first film.) Given that any remaining reservoirs of Rage virus would therefore need to be contained within humans or apes, the first order of business if I’d been in charge would have been elimination of any potential sources of re-Infection.

    Using a real world parallel: Sure, it’d be nice to be able to study the smallpox virus some more, to figure out how exactly it works and to make humans immune to it. Unfortunately, because there is still smallpox virus out there (not in humans, but in test labs), we’re faced with the possibility of someone engineering a deadlier/more communicable strain of smallpox. Even worse, we’ve got reputable scientists playing around with stuff like mousepox and genetically engineering strains of it that are 100% lethal in mice. Just wait until someone pulls the same trick with human smallpox and it gets out of the lab.

    Sometimes it’s better just to eliminate the danger than to try to understand it. I’m not a Luddite, but I am a realist. The folks in the movie did a couple of really, really stupid things and now it appears a bunch more people (about 4 billion or so) could pay the price unless someone takes drastic measures to cauterize the wound and recontain the Infection.

  • MaryAnn

    Even if there were a survivor who was immune and not a carrier, do you really think it’d be possible to transfer that immunity to anyone else, given enough time and research?

    It’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility, and it seems very likely, actually.

    But the real issue of plausibility within the context of the story. Knowing how humans behave — as you just pointed out — then the behavior of the characters in the film is entirely plausible. Not always logical, but humans are not always logical.

  • True, we’re not always logical. In fact, most of the time we are not logical. I’m not saying we need to be Vulcans, but still…

    Wouldn’t it have made sense for them to keep Alice and those like her at a second, isolated lab, far away from the civilian population? If Great Britain was truly considered “free of Infection”, they should have had other presences within the country set up specifically for Rage study and research. You don’t do your atom bomb research in the heart of a city; you do it in the desert, far away where damage can be localized in the event of a problem.

    In effect, what we had here was an update (with a few tweaks) of the end of the Trojan War. The Rage virus in the role of the Greeks; Alice in the role of the (unwitting) Trojan Horse; and the people in London in the role of the Trojans. Once the Greeks get inside the walls of Troy, the Trojans are doomed. The moral: Never ever bring something inside your walls unless you’re 100% sure about it. Otherwise, you’re screwed.

  • MaryAnn

    You don’t do your atom bomb research in the heart of a city;

    Actually, lots of A-bomb research was done at Columbia University in Manhattan. There’s a reason why the later research was called the Manhattan Project…

    The moral: Never ever bring something inside your walls unless you’re 100% sure about it.

    But there’s a big difference between a wooden horse and a living, breathing person. One of the truly disturbing themes of the film is that compassion may kill you, may kill everyone. The helicopter pilot was compassionate with the kids, and look where it got him, and the world.

    What I’m saying is: What you’re calling a bug of the film, I call a feature.

  • Fair enough point about how compassion can get ya screwed. Hopefully the folks in 28 Months Later will have a more practical attitude toward dealing with the Rage virus.

    WRT the Manhattan Project: Yes, a lot of the initial research was done at universities around the US, including in New York. But the real reason it was called the Manhattan Project is that the project fell under the jurisdiction of the US Army Corps of Engineers Manhattan Engineer District, under Colonel (and then General) Leslie R. Groves. This was later shortened to just the Manhattan Project. (For obvious reasons, they didn’t call it the Atomic Bomb Project or anything like that.) The project was only based in NYC for a short time, then moved out to Los Alamos once they got all of their infrastructure set up. (I’m a WW II geek. Comes from having a father who loves military history.)

    Of course, what this movie demonstrates is that the power of the atom bomb is nothing compared to the power of biological life itself, and that control is enormously difficult to maintain in the face of chaos and entropy. (That’s really a theme of all zombie/zombieesque movies, when you think about it.)

  • MaryAnn

    I’d argue that zombie movies are also traditionally about the human tendency to react to the scary and the unknown in the most irrational way possible. Like by NOT running away from shuffling zombies.

    I like that the *28* movies eliminated the zombie shuffle. :->

  • Steve

    Good movie. Pretty hardcore in the first 10 minutes, probably the best part of the whole movie. Had trouble believeing how little protection was on the carrier lady (Alice I think). In real life this disease would’ve been spread by international travel (more so in 28 Days Later). Although it may not have spread by planes as when people had “Rage” it was pretty noticeable.

  • MaryAnn

    The reason why Rage did not spread beyond England is because it takes down the infected too quickly. There is no incubation period, which is needed for a virus to spread. And then, as this film opens, England has been quarantined, so there hasn’t been any international travel as we know it in and out of England. I’m not sure how you think the virus could have been spread internationally in this film.

  • Alan

    Doubt: what is the distinction between a carrier and a healthy person? How do the research teams in the movie tell the difference? In Mexico we are still a few days away for having this movie in the theaters, and I’m really looking forward to it. Even more after this review.

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