The Exorcist II, Jaws 2, Blair Witch 2… Anyone else see a pattern here? Horror sequels have a terrible track record. Every time a new and interesting horror movie comes out it is usually followed by a lame, uninspired, cash-in sequel. The few horror sequels that manage to work, like Dawn of the Dead and Aliens, only manage to work because they abandon their horror elements. 28 Weeks Later, sequel to the very well received 28 Days Later, would appear to fit right in with this trend. Between the track record of horror sequels and the fact that none of the original film’s cast or crew are involved; it would be very reasonable to assume that 28 Weeks Later would be a disaster. Amazingly, these assumptions are unfounded, 28 Weeks Later is one of the least disappointing sequels in recent memory.
As I’ve established, a sequel to 28 Days Later seemed like a terrible idea, perhaps that’s why the sequel managed to work. Most movies made today are already sold as a possible start to franchise, often leading to quickie follow ups the next year like The Hills Have Eyes 2. 28 Days Later however seemed like a very cohesive movie that ended in a way that seems to deliberately paint the series into a corner to prevent a sequel. Because the sequel wasn’t a no-brainer it has been a full five years since the original hit theaters. In that five years the people behind the sequel have had time to come up with a real, serious, follow-up that is worthy of its name.
It’s been (you guessed it) 28 weeks since a plague swept over the world creating waves of rage infected humans (essentially fast zombies) in a typical zombie movie fashion. Weeks takes a page from the Romero school of zombie-movie sequels. It ignores all of the characters from the original film and depicts the plague from another unrelated group of survivors. It appears that all the infected people from the original infestation have died off (no ore brains to eat). NATO forces have moved in to reconstruct London. The center area of London has been declared a “green-zone” that is free of disease. Don (Robert Carlyle) has lost his wife during the plague. He now runs a building in the green zone and has access to a number of other areas in the green zone. Don has pulled some strings to have his children brought in despite some objections to allowing children into the area. I’ll avoid giving away further details, but it goes without saying that the disease isn’t quite gone yet, if it was this wouldn’t be much of a horror movie.
Like its predecessor, 28 Weeks Later is about more then frights and chills. Days had a serious message about human behavior and the way men react to dire situations. Weeks also comments on human behavior in tense situations, but from a more overtly political angle. The mismanaged chaos of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina are obvious in the bleak apocalypse displayed here. When the trouble starts the NATO reacts with more force then is really necessary, they become just as dangerous if not more dangerous to civilians then the rage infected zombies. The soldiers however are not bloodthirsty zealots, they’re conflicted people doing the best they can in a mismanaged and chaotic situation.
The director’s chair has been passed from the highly regarded British director Danny Boyle to the less well known Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The movie is no sellout however. The camera work is as grainy and shaky as ever here. The “shaky-cam” is one of the many visual tricks that are being experimented with recently. Horror is one of the genres that seems to benefit greatly from the style. Action movies don’t benefit from the style because its disorienting, but horror movies do benefit from the disorientation, nothing’s quite as scary as not understanding the situation you’re in and having nowhere to run.
The movie does have some problematic moments. There’s an awkward helicopter scene that unfortunate mirrors a scene played for laughs in the Robert Rodriguez segment of the recent Grindhouse. The army’s security in some key moments is also suspiciously weak, this could simply be a symptom of the mismanagement that is displayed elsewhere, but a scene explaining this would have been helpful. One must also wonder why there are NATO forces available to rebuild London when it was suggested in the first film that the rest of the world was in just as much trouble as merry old England. Additionally the movie is a little gorier then it really needs to be at times especially one stomach churning scene involving an eye gouge.
Overall though 28 Weeks Later avoids the trend of crappy horror sequels, it works both as political allegory and as a horror movie. It will have you on the edge of your seat from the claustrophobic opening, to the chaotic rage outbreak, to the Blair Witch-esque finale, to the chilling final shot.
*** out of four