May 17, 2007

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28 Weeks Later (R)
Great Britain attempts to recover from the Rage — a virus that turned most of the population into cannibal zombies in 28 Days Later — in the thoroughly entertaining sequel 28 Weeks Later.

Married couple Alice (Catherine McCormack) and Don (Robert Carlyle) are weathering the Rage in a country farmhouse. Though hungry and afraid, Alice and Don are relatively comforted because they know their children Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (MacIntosh Muggleton) are safely in Spain on a school trip. Alice, however, is a little desperate in her missing of the children. When a young boy comes to the house, Alice takes special care to protect him and when the home’s security is breached by the zombies, Don runs but Alice can’t leave the kid. Don gets away and Alice does not (though she does live long enough to give Don a guilt-inspiring gaze from the window).

Months later, the infected have died out and the U.S. military has arrived to help clean up and oversee the repopulation of London. Tammy and Andy return, happy to have their dad even though he seems a little sketchy on what happened to their mom. Having been far away at the time of the Rage, the kids don’t quite see what it would hurt if they ran back to their home in an unsecured sector of London to grab a few things from their rooms. Naturally, when they return to the “green zone,” they bring more back with them than just mementos.

The movie bounces between this fragile family and a few of the Americans. Scarlet (Rose Byrne) is a doctor whose face wears a permanent forehead crinkle of worry. She doesn’t seem convinced that the virus is completely gone nor that their quarantine is strong enough. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) is one of several soldiers who spend long lonely days keeping watch on rooftops, ready to shoot anything with red eyes and a hungry growl. He knows, as all the Americans do, that if the virus reappears, the plan is to annihilate all life via firebomb and chemical weapons.

It’s a real toss-up who are the bigger villains in this sequel — the zombies or the containment-obsessed American military. At several points (as the trailers give away) our heroes find themselves battling both. The metaphor here is less SARs or any other global pandemic and more terrorism. The movie does an excellent job of using the comparisons its creators know we will make to keep a constant sense of tension and uneasiness about everything.

The movie isn’t funny, really, not even darkly humorous as 28 Days Later sometimes was. But there’s a kind of knowing smirk (without the smugness that usually accompanies such a pose) to a lot of attitudes in this movie. The movie starts with a very bleak world-view and then tells a story in which everything gets worse. And somehow, it manages to do this while still providing us with a fun time.

And fun is key. After all, 28 Days Later is a zombie movie. We get action, we get suspense and we get a whole lot of death. The brilliance of the casting in 28 Days Later is that nobody is enough of a star to ensure that they’ll live to the end of the movie. The movie makes you keep watching and offers you enough brains (of both the smarts and the zombie-food variety) to make you glad that you are. B+

Rated R for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity. Directed by Jan Carlos Fresnadillo and written by Fresnadillo, Rowan Joffe, Jesus Olmo and E.L. Lavigne, 28 Weeks Later is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed by 20th Century Fox.