Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
May 2007

Pointless sequels are awesome! (Not)

'28 Weeks Later,' the story's already run out of steam

28 Weeks Later...
Fox Atomic
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Screenplay: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Jesus Olmo and Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Starring: Rose Byrne, Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton and Harold Perrineau
Rated R / 1 hour, 39 minutes
Opened May 11, 2007
(out of four)

Children, this is what happens when a studio gets a worldwide hit on its hands: The powers-that-be automatically suppose that a sequel is in order, even if they have no idea how they intend to advance the story.

That is the problem facing 28 Weeks Later..., the sequel to Danny Boyle's taut, intelligent 28 Days Later. It's not inherently a problem to make a sequel to the movie, but the least they could have done is gotten some substantive story idea before rushing into production. Because the rest of the pieces are there. Good actors, technical skill behind the camera and an excellent first film with an ambiguous ending on which to build.

28 Weeks Later... has garnered surprisingly good buzz for a crassly nihilistic movie with virtually no story, and that's probably because it provides exactly the kind of material zombie movies are expected to provide: a few good jump scares, lots of blood, lots of people getting eaten. But that's precisely the problem: 28 Weeks Later... gets away with doing the bare minimum. There's nothing more. The first film raised the cinematic bar for zombie movies - it wasn't just another horror flick, it was a chilling attempt at an existential, post-apocalyptic drama. And for the most part, it worked. Boyle and Co. tapped into human fears and human nature and made the story work even when no one's neck was getting chewed on.

New director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo doesn't take the time to examine much more. Even more disappointingly, there are things that the film touches upon that could be significant, but the film never goes anywhere with any of it. And it ends practically before it gets started. Even at 99 minutes, it feels even shorter, because just as the story is starting to expand and develop, the credits roll. It's like watching half a movie...the boring half, just before it starts to get good.

28 Weeks Later... begins several months after the initial outbreak of the first film. As far as anyone can tell, the "virus" has died out - the zombies starved to death (an interesting concept). British and American authorities are working to gradually re-populate mainland England in a regulated, fenced-off "green zone" full of high-rise apartments, a shopping center and even a pub. It is there that Don (Robert Carlyle) brings his two children, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots) after their mother has allegedly died in a zombie attack at the beginning of the film.

But after Andy and Tammy slip past security one day and go running back to their old house - torn to pieces and smelling awful, no doubt - they find their mother alive, scared but in relatively good health, despite getting bitten by a zombie. She's taken in and quarantined, and her condition piques the interest of Scarlet (Rose Byrne), one of the military doctors in charge of the situation. Needless to say, the mother eventually starts infecting other people and the whole zombie thing starts all over again - leaving the two kids to fend for themselves and try to escape to safety with the help of Scarlet and the good-hearted soldier Doyle and his friend Flynn (Harold Perrineau, completely under-utilized).

Doyle is played by Jeremy Renner, who is kind of like a poor man's Nathan Fillion but without the sardonic wit, comic timing and screen presence. He comes to the rescue when his superior orders him to essentially exterminate the green zone, zombies and non-zombies alike. He refuses, leaves his post and joins up with Scarlet and the kids. Don, the father, is a zombie now and keeps turning up around corners and down dark alleys. Such a shame Carlyle's considerable acting skill is wasted on frothing at the mouth and screaming unintelligibly.

Then, the movie ends. There's nothing more than that. Why the filmmakers chose to cut the story off when it had hardly picked up any steam is beyond me - isn't there something else beneath the surface? Of course there is. Too bad they didn't notice.

One of the film's most interesting angles is the possibility of immunity from the virus. Scarlet brings this up a few times, but the film never expands on what the reasons or consequences of such an immunity might be.

Most horror movies dabble in nihilism in way or another, but 28 Weeks Later... doesn't know to utilize that element. In this terrifying fight for survival, Fresnadillo and his writers could have found some interesting ways to comment on the inevitable nihilism that this kind of kill-or-be-killed environment breeds. But they don't. They leave it as is.

28 Weeks Later... is a technically skilled film, but has no sense of story or tension. Perhaps if the studio or filmmakers had any idea how they wanted to progress the story, instead of rushing to put out a follow-up to a crossover hit, the film may have had the kind of lasting impact as its predecessor. The simplest way to put it - if 28 Weeks Later... had come out first, let's just say that no one would be clamoring to make a sequel.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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