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28 Weeks Later…

July 31, 2007

Kind of despite itself, 28 Days Later… has achieved a pretty hefty reputation in the modern Brit cinema canon. It helps that it was very successful in the US, of course, and that it was able to escape a fairly unanimous well-it was-OK critical reception on initial release. The fact is, a lot of people went to see it, a lot of people bought the DVD and a lot of people just straightforward liked it. Personally, I think it’s because we really like Danny Boyle, the director – we had a good relationship with him after Shallow Grave and the iconic Trainspotting, and we were ready to forgive him for The Beach – and 28DL allowed us to show that clemency. It was embraced.28 Weeks Later…, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s update, taking the story on 6 months, has a difficult job to do, then. I’ll admit that I was unsure the same thing could be pulled off twice. Fortunately that’s not the remit of this movie. Oh, sure, it follows Boyle’s bravura stylistic template (the worryingly speedy Infected, shaky camera work, breathlessly impossible situations, much blood-letting), but then it was never going to be a PG, was it? We need our thrills after all; but there’s a different approach here. Back to that in a sec, time for a bit of plot.

Fresnadillo initially takes us to 15 days later, where we find Robert Carlyle holed up with his missus and a handful of survivors, in a farmhouse, trying to outlive the massed ranks of the Rage-filled virus-affected mob. This seems to be fairly hunky dory until they allow a young lad in, and then all hell breaks loose. This first scene is awful, but in a good way. Awful in the sense that you can’t look through your fingers for fear. The farmhouse is overrun in double-quick time and Carlyle scarpers, leaving his wife to cope. He assumes the worst.

But, boy, he lacks imagination. His version of what’s worst is woefully inadequate.

A few months later, and the Infected have died of starvation. The Americans have arrived to tidy up, and declared a central zone (the Isle of Dogs) a safe area. Carlyle is there, having survived the intervening time since turning his back on the wife, and he’s waiting for his kids to return home from Spain where they were on holiday at the time of the outbreak. When the children escape the safe zone to rediscover their family home…well, you just know this isn’t going to end happily.

Soon (very very very soon) the We Did It attitude of the military presence is critically undermined and chaos reigns. Carlyle comes face to face with the cowardice he exhibited in Act One and we’re into adrenelin overdrive. Right up to the final immense joke in the very last frame of the movie.

28WL doesn’t have that English Gothic creepiness that the original delved into in its middle and end sequences, it eschews the gravitas of Cillian Murphy’s father figure tragedy (losing his dad, Frank and the Major in successive reels), it ignores the sociological swipes that movie aimed at our relationship with anger; but what it does have is a massive political subtext, a real intent to show us some feelings can’t be controlled and that imposing order from without will almost always backfire. No second guesses on what arena of conflict this is really making us look at, then.

Despite one ludicrous plot device (no spoilers from me, go see it) this works on every level. It’s scary, thrilling, intelligent and at the end, very funny. Not quite a five star ride, this is still brain-munchingly good.

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