28 Days Later (2003) – 28 Weeks Later (2007)

8 Feb

28-weeks-later

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Somehow, I always had a feeling that those darn animal-rights activists would find some way to cause chaos, let alone practically the end of the world. In the opening scene to the horror film “28 Days Later,” a misguided group of British animal liberation activists break into a Cambridge laboratory and free a caged chimp, despite the helpless scientist stating the animals are infected with a dangerous, mysterious, extremely contagious virus dubbed “rage.” The contaminated chimp violently mauls one of the activists, who then turns on the other, and this is the beginning of the end.

Those pesky animal-rights people. They think they know best, but they certainly don’t know better than to go against someone exclaiming, “They’re infected with rage! They’re contagious!”

28 days later, the virus has spread even further. Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in an empty, abandoned hospital after a comatose state that started before the disaster. Confused and unnerved, he wanders the streets of London and finds that it’s completely deserted and trashed. Then he is attacked by one of the “infected” people and saved by other survivors who inform him of what has happened and what the “infected” have become—they are wild, aggressive, raging, bloodthirsty beasts with not a sense of human left in them at all. Apparently, all it takes is a bite and a drop of blood to transform you within 10-20 seconds.

Jim and another survivor, Selena (Naomie Harris), encounter two other survivors—a middle-aged man named Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his young daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). They come across a radio broadcast from the Military that claims a group of soldiers are in a “safe zone” which keeps the secret to curing the infection. So, they all set out to find them.

“28 Days Later” is a gripping thriller with memorable visuals (such as Jim walking down the empty, isolated streets of London) and a surprisingly convincing dilemma. The way these infected “zombies” (for lack of a better word) come about is effectively complex, and all the more frightening. And these beasts are pure rage with only two things on their minds—flesh and blood. They’re very fast, unlike most zombies, and worse yet, they travel in packs. It’s one thing to have one or two zombies charging after you, but an army? That’s always fearsome.

Although, I have to wonder—if they travel in packs, then why don’t they attack each other? Wouldn’t they be hungry enough if no healthy people are around?

Even if “28 Days Later” were just about this infection and these zombies, it would have been a successful horror film. But this movie focuses more on its characters than you would expect from a film of this genre. You grow to like them as you get to know them, and you root for them to survive the infection, the zombies, and whatever comes next. And also, the film becomes more of a tale about human nature, once the characters find the military base where they think they’ll be safe. There’s something more here than what seems to be, and you have to wonder who can really be trusted in this changed world. Questions of evolution, the future, and the right to kill are brought up as well as, “Who’s human and who’s the beast?” That’s a question that science-fiction writers love to try and handle and we have it in “28 Days Later.” It’s predictable, but effective all the same.

“28 Days Later” is a great thrill ride. I was invested from beginning to end, and a lot of credit for that has to go to the director Danny Boyle. He shoots on video to give the film its gritty, almost documentary-like feel (and also because it’s probably more affordable). The camera-shaking element helps as well to keep the tension going in scenes such as when the heroes are trapped in a dark tunnel, and having to change a tire on their car quickly before the zombies catch up with them. The tension is present, as are the shocks that ensue.

Jim, Selena, Frank, and Hannah are all well-developed characters and they’re well-acted by Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and Megan Burns. All four actors do credible jobs, but more importantly, it’s the writing of these people that must be recognized. Writer Alex Garland remembers that a key essential element to a successful thriller/action picture/horror film is that you care for the characters as much as anything else.

Sure, the allegories can be very obvious, some questions needed some answers, and the ending is kind of a cheat in some way, but for the most part, “28 Days Later” is a scary, intelligent thriller that even gives something as ridiculous as “zombies” a good name.

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Who should be feared more? The contaminated zombies that want nothing more than to eat anyone they can catch up to? Or the government that orders a Code Red; to end the problem by picking off everybody to make sure this doesn’t leave the area? In the case of “28 Weeks Later,” both sides are equally threatening. They each bring about a certain single trait—one side contains merely rage; the other side knows less about human nature than they think they do. Both of them bring certain death.

Several months after the contagion that infected about half of the human race (turning them into rage-filled, bloodthirsty zombies—a word that is never used, for better or worse), the infected have died out and Britain is now under quarantine, as US forces have taken over. Settlers are brought in to repopulate the area. These include two kids—Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots)—who had been on a school trip to Spain during the catastrophic outbreak. They’ve come home to their father, Don (Robert Carlyle), who now has to explain to them what happened to their mother, Alice (Catherine McCormack). In an unbelievable act of cowardice, Don abandoned his wife during a zombie attack to save his own life. (We see that in the film’s gripping, intense opening sequence—later, Don just tells the kids there was nothing he could do to help.)

Andy and Tammy sneak out of the Green Zone to their old house to pick up a few things, where they discover their mother; still alive, symptom-free, and catatonic. The military goes in to pick up the kids and also brings back Alice to a biohazard room to see if she has the Rage Virus.

I won’t be giving anything away by saying that Alice is in fact infected and that the contagion is going to start all over again, because if that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have a second half. The first half is mainly for setup and character development. Aside from Don, Andy, and Tammy, we’re also introduced to Doyle (Jeremy Renner), a sniper whose conscience makes his job difficult; Scarlet (Rose Byrne), a medical officer; and Flynn (Harold Perrineau), a reluctant chopper pilot.

Then the second half arrives, and “28 Weeks Later” really kicks into gear with one long, action-packed, intense thrill ride as the virus becomes active again and the military are given one basic order—Code Red. Everyone is a target as Scarlet, Doyle, and the two kids are on the run from the soldiers and the newly-infected zombies.

The second half of “28 Weeks Later” is phenomenally thrilling and even terrifying, the further it continues. It doesn’t let up. The action scenes are superbly handled; they’re very effective and keep audiences on the edge of their seats. There are three key sequences that are equally exhilarating—one is the first sniper attack in which Doyle’s conscience gets the better of him once he sees young Andy running for his life among a mixed crowd of infected and normal, frightened people; one has the characters trapped in an abandoned car by advancing soldiers, nerve gas, and the attacking zombies; and another is seen in night vision as the characters try to keep track of each other, and you just know that one of the infected is going to show up soon, and that feeling alone gets you shaken up. “28 Weeks Later” delivers one hell of a ride.

Who is man and who is beast? That’s the allegory that all science-fiction writers love to use in some or most of their stories, and when it works, it’s very effective, as is the case with “28 Weeks Later.” It’s intense, thrilling, and scary. This isn’t for the faint of heart, but after watching this movie, you’ll be glad the nearest person is still human.

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