What, oh Lord, would we ever do without the Zombie Flick? Vampires, werewolves and monsters of all stripes are mostly the leftover anxieties of earlier eras; it took 20th-century America to create the living dead. They are, if you think about it, all the things we fear wrapped up into one: The viciousness and flesh-eating of the werewolf; the blood pollution and forced assimilation of the vampire, the dead-ancestors-are-out-to-get-us fears aroused by plain old ghosts and ghouls. For 40-odd years, the shambling, flesh-craving dead dreamed up by directors like George Romero were the emblem and paragon of our death-repulsed, death-obsessed society’s love-hate relationship with the hereafter.
Given that, it took a movie like director Danny Boyle’s superb “28 Days Later” to reinvent the zombie for a new millennium. Fast, cunning, vicious and able to convert the living to their ranks in seconds, Boyle’s zombies took the genre in whole new directions.
Though Boyle isn’t in the director’s chair this go-round, “28 Weeks Later,” the sequel to his zombie masterpiece, is a fitting and well-done companion to the original. Unwilling to gunk up the formula of grainy footage, surreal empty cityscapes and lightning-fast handheld action, it’s sure to please fans who kept the lights on for a few nights after seeing “28 Days Later.”
As its title suggests, “28 Weeks” picks up where “28 Days” left off: soon after the outbreak of a deadly “rage virus” — a blood- and saliva-borne pathogen that instantly turns anyone infected into a homicidal, adrenaline-stoked maniac bent on murder. Early on, we meet Alice (Catherine McCormack) and Don (Robert Carlyle), a married couple who have boarded themselves up in a small country cottage with a handful of other refugees. Soon after, the zombies come knocking, overrunning the defenses. Trapped in a bedroom with his wife, Don has to make an awful decision: try to save his wife and probably end up dead with her, or turn tail and run. Don chooses the latter, narrowly escaping the horde by boat and eventually making his way to a heavily-armed refugee camp.
Flash forward to the 28 weeks later of the film’s title — around six months after the original outbreak. (Yes, I know it doesn’t add up, but “28 Weeks Later” sounds better than “a few months and several days change.” Stay with me, now.) With all the zombies long since starved to death, the U.S. Army and NATO have swooped in to try and help clean, secure and repopulate the core of London. Under strict martial law, around 15,000 people have come back to the city, including Don’s children, Andy (MacKintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), who were on a trip to Spain at the time of the initial outbreak that decimated Britain. Reunited with their father but still pining for photos and personal items from their suburban London home, Andy and Tammy soon break out of the quarantine zone and head for home. Once there, they make an amazing discovery: their mother, Alice. Returned to the compound, an Army virologist named Scarlet (Rose Byrne) discovers that though Alice shows no symptoms, she carries the virus in her blood and saliva. Quicker than you can say, “Don’t kiss her, you idiot!” Don is infected with the full-blown rage virus, which soon spreads to the general population. Believing Alice’s children might bear the immunity gene that could lead to a cure for the virus, Scarlet, Don and Alice — with the help of a kindly Army sniper named Doyle (Jeremy Renner) and his helicopter pilot friend (Harold Perrineau) — are soon on the run from both the zombies and the U.S. Army’s “Code Red,” a plan to napalm and nerve-gas the virus into submission before it can wreak havoc on the world.
While some of the scenes in “28 Weeks” seem to exist only to serve the needs of the plot or the next jump-out-and-getcha scare (a scene where our heroes are trapped in a pitch-black tunnel with only a sniper scope to guide them comes to mind), for the most part, “28 Weeks” delivers on the same kind of pulse-quickening action and put-you-there direction of the original. The pre-outbreak scenes of the film tend to drag a bit, but once the virus gets loose and the American War Machine turns on the infected and uninfected alike, things quickly get cranked up — including some of the gnarliest helicopter-as-weapon zombie-whacking ever committed to film.
If you liked the original — or you’re a fan of zombie flicks in general — you’ll probably find a lot to like in “28 Weeks Later.” If, however, you’re turned off by the sight of people vomiting blood and ripping people’s throats out, you might want to seek your pleasures elsewhere.