In “28 Days Later,” Britain was devastated by a virus that turned its victims into raging, flesh-eating zombies. And unlike most zombies, these things could run like Carl Lewis. In the sequel “28 Weeks Later,” the virus has run its course and the U.S. Army has stepped in to repopulate the country. It quarantines an island in the Thames River and sets up a temporary police state until order returns. The repatriated Brits include Don (Robert Carlyle), who last saw his wife being attacked by zombies during the outbreak, and his kids (Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton).
Another outbreak proves to be more than the Americans can handle. Zombies chomp on the citizenry, overwhelm the Army’s meager defenses and convince them to call in massive air strikes (i.e. “we had to destroy the village to save it”). Caught between American soldiers and the infected, the remaining survivors, including Don’s children, need to get out of London before the Army levels the entire city.
“28 Weeks Later” is obviously intended to be an allegory for Iraq — they even call the American controlled area the “Green Zone” — but it’s a far more nuanced assessment of Iraq than we usually see in pop culture. Amid the chaos, morality is freed from its moorings; altruistic actions and cynical ones both just seem to compound the problem. The American occupiers aren’t malicious; they’re generally good-hearted but also ill prepared and beleaguered. The commanders vacillate between naïve optimism and pragmatic cruelty. Neither approach works.
Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo wisely retains the digitized visual style that cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle pioneered for the first film. Using choppy, sped-up digital cameras for the perspective of the zombies, life becomes a series of hazy horrors; it’s like being drunk on anger. One scene takes place almost entirely through the lens of a night-vision scope. It’s hard to know whom to shoot when your gun’s sight makes everybody looks like a zombie.
While I’m generally averse to horror movies, I would see more of them if they were like “28 Weeks Later.” A slasher flick like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Halloween” is not only grotesque but also depressing; people try to survive not because they love life, but because they fear being hacked to death. Most horror movies rarely acknowledge that death is a sad occasion.
“28 Weeks Later” is filled with extraordinary images, but it’s the film’s human depth that makes those images so unforgettable. Early in the film, Don finds his wife on the other side of a room. No matter what he does, she’s a goner; there’s a zombie between them and more on the way. He turns to run, but not before he sees the disappointment in his wife’s eyes.
Now that is horror.