Wednesday, September 14, 2011

After The Apocalypse: Infection Resurrects 28 Weeks Later . . .

The Good: Decent acting, Interesting plot, Good direction, Good musical direction
The Bad: No character development, Huge plot holes, Extraordinary violence and gore
The Basics: Ultimately a terribly average film, 28 Weeks Later . . . returns the viewer to abandoned London after the infection for a well-directed, well-acted poorly plotted, plot-driven film with no real characters.

[Note: This was originally written after seeing "28 Weeks Later . . ." in the theater and I liked my opening, so I am not changing it! Enjoy! - W.L. Swarts]

Have you ever seen a film and, when it was over, you sat and thought, "Man, I hope that's not the last movie I ever see . . ?" I was alternating between that and hoping the tractor that was on the flatbed truck I was following home after seeing 28 Weeks Later . . . would fall off and kill me so I wouldn't have to write this review. I write this not because I have a particular death wish (anymore) or because 28 Weeks Later . . . was a terrible movie, but rather because the film is exceptionally difficult to review. To dispense with the pleasantries, I LOVED 28 Days Later . . . (reviewed here!) and I could not wait to add that film to my DVD library. The short version of this review is that when I first heard 28 Weeks Later . . . was in the works, I was wary. It was better than I thought it would be, but I will not be adding it to my permanent collection when it is released on DVD.

England, the once pleasant island empire, has fallen to the infectious plague virus known as the Rage. Those who are infected run through the streets infecting others and/or tearing them apart. Now, twenty-eight weeks after the initial infection struck, the island is dead and those who escaped in the early days of the infection are being allowed to return to London to rebuild the country. The problem, of course, is that with 15,000 civilians under the watchful eye of the U.S. military, mistakes are bound to happen.

In this case, the mistake is the return of children Andy and Tammy, who are joyfully reunited with their father, Don, who runs some of the new London (he survived on the island throughout the outbreak). Andy and Tammy jump the bridge from protected London into one of the unsanitized areas where they find their mother, Alice, who Don abandoned when she was swarmed by the infected. Alice, it seems, is a carrier of the Rage, but not infected. Unfortunately, almost simultaneous to this discovery, Don reunites with his wife and she infects him, setting off a new wave of infection. As the U.S. military works with surprising ineptitude to contain the new outbreak, Andy and Tammy find themselves running for their lives with Doyle - a soldier - and Scarlet, an army doctor who understands what Alice was.

Just as 28 Days Later . . . ultimately suffers some from the idea that a bloodborne contagion that is so virulent that a drop of it would almost instantly infect people who are uninfected could be fought by a bunch of people who often hack apart infected people in such a way that it is inconceivable that they, too, would not be infected, 28 Weeks Later . . . suffers from serious structural flaws that undermine the basic concept of the film. In 28 Weeks Later . . . the viewer is asked to believe that the U.S. military, which seems in this instance specially designed for contamination control, would be so inept as to forget to lock a door? Ultimately, the new wave of infection begins because the shelter most of the refugees are herded into has an unlocked back door through which the lone infected enters! Understanding the rage virus is entirely dependent upon seeing 28 Days Later . . . and this film stands up poorly if one has not seen it.

But even before that, there are serious questions that are raised that push the level of suspension of disbelief into the realm of suspension of intelligence. Don, established immediately in the new hierarchy of London as the man who runs the power station is able to use his card to gain access to a military quarantine lab. Why? There's no conceivable reason that any of the several checkpoints he swiped his card at en route would not have stopped him to find out his purpose.

But let's backtrack even more. Alice is found in an area of London that the military has been through; the stacks of unburned yellow biohazard bags are evidence of that. How did they miss finding Alice? How did they miss the other bodies that are in the area? Better yet, why is there a bridge connecting the uninfected Green Zone to the dubious remainder of London? And if it must be there, why is it only guarded by two people? Come on!

This may seem like nit-picking, but it actually is a fair exploration of the conceits the viewer is simply expected to swallow without thinking. I refuse to do this. The thing one needs to consider about life after the apocalypse is that it's quiet. With the power grid down, without cars, airplanes, gas fires, water running, without people, much of the world is quieter. I mean this in a literal - sound - fashion and a visual sense. Satellite technology being what it is, infrared heat signatures from a dead nation would stand out brightly. Robbed of all of the things that would clutter up such a device, a human body that was still generating energy would stand out like a flare on an infrared scan. One would presume some of this is how the government was able to assess that the infected had died after five weeks. Alice ought to have been visible long before the military even approached Britain.

But this conceit reaches its peak near the climax of the movie (which I will not ruin by overstating). The viewer is expected to believe that a victim of the rage, who slobbers, shouts maniacally and runs around noisily would not be heard in an empty subway depot? Please! Everything the viewer sees of the infected in the two films illustrates that these are not stealthy people. They run around, flailing, vomiting blood and making noise. Yet, in the last few moments of the film, one pops up in an otherwise empty, open space without any warning. I don't buy it.

Which leads me to my last point - and this one, I will concede is a nit-pick - which deals with Alice. I LOVE the idea of a person who has a natural immunity to the Rage. It makes sense. Humans are resilient that way. For every affliction, there is a cure and often it is in us somewhere. I dig that. Don abandoned Alice - as we see in the film's opening - because she was swarmed with infected. While we may easily buy that Alice has the natural ability to resist the Rage, it's pretty far-fetched to believe that the infected would not simply tear her apart.

That said, 28 Weeks Later . . . is not a subtle movie. In fact, it seems to hinge on the idea that the circumstances are so horrific that the viewer will simply disengage their senses and sensibilities. One of the wonderfully terrifying moments of 28 Days Later . . . was when Jim is told about the outbreak at the airport and the viewer imagines the terror of a crowd becoming infected and people trampling one another to try to escape. 28 Weeks Later . . . shows that quite graphically and it leads to a sequence that is graphic, violent, bloody, and also strangely inadequate.

The U.S. military in 28 Weeks Later . . . takes a right rebound from cautious and inept to the necessary stage of overkill. The problem here is in the middle ground. The moment a quarantine is activated - when Don becomes infected and escapes - the military ought to have been on its most ready and (frankly) brutal standing. The moment the quarantine was broken, there is no sensible reason for not shooting everything that moves. Yes, human compassion dictates some of the people running out of the quarantine area may not be infected and you're killing innocent people. Contagion protocol dictates a level of callousness that must disengage from that. Contagion protocol is big picture thinking; you kill all two thousand people in the bunker to protect the other thirteen thousand people and the world at large.

So, despite the gore and horror that erupts from the infection and the shock and horror that the audience might feel when innocents are eventually cut down, many will simply watch and wonder, why weren't they doing that from the beginning?

It is at this point in the review that some might be wondering why I'm dissecting the plot so very much. I'm making righteous attacks on the plot because this is a plot-intensive film. There is almost no character development to speak of. In fact, the only true element of character development comes within the first ten minutes of the film. The film opens with a small group of survivors of the plague having a meal when a young boy arrives at the house and Don, Alice and the others take him in, though the Infected soon rush through killing most. Don and Alice become separated when Alice opts to save the young boy instead of herself. The sole bit of genuine character development in 28 Weeks Later . . . comes when Andy - Alice's son who had been evacuated prior to the event - is shown on screen and he looks stunningly like the boy Alice tried to save. We understand that Alice's maternal instinct kicked in to try to save someone who reminded her of her son. It's subtle, clever and it's the only thing in the one and a half hour frightfest that genuinely pops of insight.

Robbed of character development, it's hard to even discuss the acting. Rose Byrne is well cast as Scarlet. She is plausible as a military doctor and the viewer wonders why the Major doesn't fight more for what she believes in. Byrne is able to connote compassion and strength in a character that is otherwise very much a "type." She is a joy to watch throughout the film.

Similarly, Robert Carlyle is empathetic as Don. Carlyle is one of the few survivors of the outbreak and he is shocked, cautious and deeply wounded at the beginning of the film. Carlyle's performance of a survivor is so good that he makes the viewer wonder why Don would even want to stay in Britain. Seriously, when he tells his children that they can't go back to their old home, his performance is so heartwrenching that it makes the viewer sit up and wonder, why are people bothering to go back to London anyway? I mean, if I've been fleeing for over three months before I see someone who is sane, uninfected and has access to a safe world off the island, why would I stay amidst the ghosts and gloom as opposed to begging for extraction?

Even the kids, Mackintosh Muggleton (Andy) and Imogen Poots (Tammy) are decent enough in their performances, though for most of the film they are relegated to running and looking terrified. Jeremy Renner convincingly plays the military-minded Doyle and we instantly believe his efficiency and instinct toward self preservation. Even Harold Perrineau - recognizable from his role of Michael on Lost (reviewed here!) - is fine, though underscripted as the helicopter pilot Flynn.

Which brings us to the final analysis. No character development, a good concept that results in a plot that only works when one ignores the facts presented, and generally good acting. The musical direction is as powerful as in the first film and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo does a great job at making the film look and feel like the next chapter in the saga. But ultimately, this is a whole lot of blood, with little sensibility.

There we go. There is a lot of blood. There is a lot of gore. There is a lot of shooting, frenzied violence and even a whole load of people split apart by helicopter blades. How this movie skated by with an R rating, I don't know. I'm not big into the MPAA or ratings, because I believe they should be guidelines that simply dictate what state a film is in, as opposed to something that is regulated such that movies submit and resubmit to try to get the rating they want (I think films should get one pass with the MPAA, rated and then released in that form and let parents and adults do the rest of the work). How 28 Weeks Later . . . is R and not NC-17 or X, I do not know. I've no problem with it if it was, in fact for a post-apocalyptic scenario where any means necessary will be employed to save the world, I think it's perfectly reasonable to have such carnage to rate a higher rating. This movie feels like it ought to have been something more extreme than an R rating. It employs a level of graphicness that is both disturbing and appropriate. For the plot of the film, this is to be expected. It ought to be rated like that, though.

Now on DVD, 28 Weeks Later . . . features a commentary track as well as some other decent bonus features. There are deleted scenes, featurettes and a "graphic novel" that bridges the first movie with this one. It's a nice package that adds value to the otherwise mediocre film.

So, it's a lot of blood, gore, violence, extreme concept that is pretty terrifying (though also pretty well telegraphed). And for what? Had the movie ended where it appeared to end, I think I would have rated it higher. But there was one additional scene. It sets up another potential sequel and it basically defines what the whole purpose of the film we've just sat through truly is. And it's a disappointing direction and it comes rather out of the blue.

Which is why this film is so hard to rate. I spent some time debating rating it an 8 (with a not recommend) because it was a good example of a post-apocalyptic horror filled with all the expected gore and terror one would figure on. I thought about all of the plot holes and thought maybe it was a 4 that I could recommend to those who liked 28 Days Later . . . Ultimately, I think in my pantheon (which is a 10 point scale), this would be best rated as a six because it is well directed, well acted (given the parts) and if one were going to resurrect the rage virus 28 weeks later, I suppose this might be the most plausible avenue. Ultimately, though, this is a remarkably average film experience and it leaves the viewer with a sense of being unfulfilled. And I return to where I was before I ever saw this movie: 28 Weeks Later . . . is a bad idea; they should have left it with the first movie and let it be.

I wish I had.

For other films about infectious agents, please visit my reviews of:

6/10 (not recommended)

For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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