****/**** Image N/A Sound A Extras B
starring Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Idris Elba
screenplay by Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, E.L. Lavigne, Jesús Olmo
directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Walter Chaw It's phenomenal. Where 28 Days Later... was saddled with ambition that exceeded its reach and, in Danny Boyle, a director who not only disdained the genre but has otherwise proven himself a grade-A tool as well, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's sequel 28 Weeks Later is brutally graceful in its vision of a nuclear family's dissolution as the metaphor for a broader, collective unrest. The triumph of the picture, though, is that it's as succinct and eloquent as a heart attack; as a parable of the Iraq War (popularly called "The War in Iraq," a subtle semantic distancing technique particularly trenchant to this discussion), it's all about aftermath and occupation. It's impossible to not compare it to the years and tens of thousands of fatalities since the declaration of "mission accomplished" when the picture begins with the reassurance that everything's peachy in dead-as-a-doornail England. Repatriation and reconstruction have begun six months after the outbreak of the first film's "rage virus," reuniting two kids, Tammy (future superstar Imogen Poots) and Andy (Harry Potter-named Mackintosh Muggleton), with their tightly-wound da', Don (Robert Carlyle). In an end-of-the-world opening in what only appears to be night (it's the first of several brilliant reversals), we see how a fissure develops in Don's marriage to wife Alice (Catherine McCormack), and of how that stress fracture becomes the foundation for the rest of the picture's relationships and politics.
Jeremy Renner's Doyle, a Delta sniper asked early on to stop drawing distinctions in his targets, makes a fine Cpl. Hicks manqué: sensitive man-of-action placed in the unenviable position of shepherding civilians to a promise of safety. Rose Byrne plays Major Scarlet (her name possibly a joke at the expense of the gore), the ranking American medical officer who fulfills her role as disastrous peacenik without once sacrificing herself on any camp pyres. The pleasures of 28 Weeks Later are multifold for the fanboy looking for a fix but perhaps more so for the sociologist looking for toeholds in our popular culture. Dig just a little under the surface and find, almost at the same time, sticky commentary on how and why terrorists are bred from otherwise docile stock and, that much stickier, suggestions about the extent to which intimate family dynamics are built on aggression, fear, and the inability to let things in the past stay buried no matter what lip service is paid to absolution. Better, the picture goes places you wouldn't expect it to go but with good reason to go there. It doesn't set new bars for gore or atrocity, but it does give immense emotional and visceral gravity to its mayhem. When 28 Weeks Later pauses for a moment in its full-long flight to gawk closely at death, it feels a little like someone's kicked you in the marble bag.
Making a mark with a thriller, Intacto (you could argue that both Intacto and 28 Weeks Later deal with the ugliness of predestination), that boasts one of the most perfect scenes in cinema from 2001, Fresnadillo adopts the handheld ethic of Boyle's picture and injects it with the energy of the vertiginous opening moments of Narc. In a real sense, it's a film about perceptual reality, and as the plague inevitably breaks out again in an American-run, Ellis Island-esque NATO outpost, Fresnadillo's escalation of the events from an observation room to a subway tunnel to an open air carnival (with a brief stop in-between for an American helicopter to one-up Robert Rodriguez amidst a horde of zombies) demonstrates a firm handle on how to intersperse God's-eye perspective with impossible-to-assimilate ground-level chaos. It's terrifying, in other words, even when you can't process what's going on, because of the perspective afforded by its aerial shots of Yanks fire-bombing a civilian population--an acceptable war crime in Dresden and Tokyo, lest we forget--followed hot by chemical warfare in a sequence of flight from slowly-encroaching death that pays a sort of literal homage to Romero's shambling legions. I haven't been at once exhilarated and exhausted by an action film like this since James Cameron's Aliens; 28 Weeks Later is a mousetrap constructed for the express purpose of making you feel shitty, apparently, and it goes about its scares (existential and otherwise) so honourably that you don't resent the shortness of breath. Effective from its prologue to an epilogue that seems somehow to recognize France's recent election of its very own George W. Bush, 28 Weeks Later is the first great surprise of 2007.
Same old song as Fox provides a DVD-R for our approval; needless to say, I can't tell how the film's supposed to look in its retail incarnation, though I'm giving this transfer the benefit of the doubt in elevating the platter to must-own status. On the other hand, I can unequivocally praise the DD 5.1 audio, which made me jump more than once. (When Carlyle's character reappears to his son, the noise of his arrival bobs up in the left rear speaker--the weak side, if you will; I nearly lost my water.) Note the underground sequence at the beginning of the outbreak in chapter 15: the crowd panics in all six speakers, yet the sound is articulate, not just white noise. Fuck yeah. Fresnadillo and producer Enrique Lopez Lavigne pair up for a well-modulated, moderately informative yak-track that covers major aspects of the production in pleasant detail. Trainspotting is kept to a minimum, and while it doesn't offer much that's surprising, it's not completely useless, either. I was most surprised to hear of Danny Boyle's involvement as a second unit director during the opening farmhouse sequence and of Alex Garland's participation in the screenplay. Two deleted scenes (5 mins.) come with optional commentary, the first being a fairly disposable interstitial in the colony's cafeteria, the second a fairly amazing dream sequence post-subway attack that sees the boy reunited with the mother. After a fashion.
"Code Red: The Making of" (13 mins.) is a nice little featurette that touches on original concepts for a sequel (garbage like a commando raid to rescue the Prime Minister and the Queen) in addition to revealing that Fresnadillo is the "nicest" director most of the cast has ever worked with. There's talk of how the family disintegration at the film's centre is meant as metaphor (not subtle, but effective)--and, awesome beyond words, of how much of the flick was shot day-for-night. "The Infected" (7 mins.) details how the picture, in a way, is like the Day of the Dead of this budding franchise in its focus on one particular baddie. Highlight for me, though (as it is in each of these docus): getting to listen to Rose Byrne speak in her natural accent. Sweet Jemima! "Getting Into the Action" (7 mins.) speaks broadly about some of the action choreography. Two extras, one running eight minutes, the other four, seem to be animated storyboards that bridge the gap between the first film and the second. Why? I don't really know. Previews for Day Watch and Sunshine open the disc, while through the main menu you can access trailers for 28 Days Later..., The Hills Have Eyes 2, Lake Placid 2, Pathfinder, Perfect Creature, and Wrong Turn 2. Also available in fullscreen and on Blu-ray. Originally published: October 8, 2007.