Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All the rage

The rage virus returns in 28 Weeks Later, an idea for a sequel that sounded straight-to-video but emerges as the scariest horror movie since The Descent, and I don't frighten easily. There was no particular reason, save the usual financial one, to continue Danny Boyle's superior 2002 thriller 28 Days Later and the title smacks of convenience and maybe desperation (next will come 28 Months Later, followed by 28 Years Later, 28 Decades Later, and so on). But it works.

The director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, made the quite different metaphysical mind-bender Intacto in 2001, and prejudiced as I was against the idea I was a little sorry to see that this would be his followup. He takes a different tack, however, and gives it distinction. I missed the pastoral (if misleading) lulls of the first picture and its richer, more eccentric characterizations, yet the stripped-to-the-bone style Fresnadillo employs pays off. At least half of the 91-minute movie is filmed on the run, shot herky-jerkily (but coherently) by Enrique Chediak, as if he, too, were in frenzied panic from hordes of blood-spewing "infected" (not zombies) who want nothing more than to add you to their number.

The first sequences, set during the siege of the first film, are real throat grabbers; you figure that the star, Full Monty character lead Robert Carlyle, is going to make it, but his survival comes at tremendous emotional cost--you can empathize, but not really sympathize, with him--and the way the film is scripted (by the director, Rowan Joffe, and Jesus Olmo) there's no telling how long we can expect to identify with him as the lead. The narratively similar Children of Men also brought up new themes from episode to episode--this may be the new scriptwriting paradigm--but Clive Owen stuck around to the end of the picture to see us through the apocalypse. So does Carlyle, but not in a way I could have anticipated, and each new shift has its own center--a military scientist (Rose Byrne) protecting Carlyle's scientifically invaluable children, then, when the proverbial all hell breaks loose, a disaffected U.S. grunt (the underrated Jeremy Renner) who balks at NATO's termination policy. But how long these centers will hold is key to the suspense, which is backed by composer John Murphy's embroidering of his mournful electronica themes from the first film.

The inevitable post-9/11 parallels, with Britain held hostage by an uncomprehending occupying force, are sensibly handled; even the innocents caught in the crosshairs realize that the firepower aimed their way is likely necessary. Fresnadillo goes a little trigger-happy witb the digital effects, including an over-the-top demolition sequence mimicking one from Grindhouse--for the audience I was with, the most unsettling scene was a simple drawing of blood, which had one aisle sitter crying "Back to Spidey! Back to Spidey now!" as he scrurried out the door. But Fresnadillo delivers the payload with the film's most awesome, and distressing, scene: The firebombing of London, reminiscent not of 9/11 but of continental horrors like the bombing of Dresden. The film may be called 28 Weeks Later, but it reflects a terrible history besides.

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