28 Weeks Later
I never did understand why people get so worked up about zombies. As monsters, they’re the least interesting type one can imagine: dumb, unseductive, monomaniac, and completely lacking in imagination. And they’re easy to kill. At its best, it is the peculiar situation the zombies put the humans into that is the most enduring aspect of the genre. The key to the zombie is that anybody can turn into one, just like that. Often the hero(es) find themselves having to kill their friends and families after they’ve been infected. And as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead shows, it’s not only on this level that the process of dehumanization occurs. Trapped inside a house by a horde of zombies, a group of people sacrifice their morals in order to ensure survival. In Romero’s film, the focus is in the situation inside the house and the psychological and moral degradation of the people inside.
One of the first instances of the zombie as we know it is found on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend. They are addressed as “vampires” (as they surely are in a way) but their behavior and appearance is clearly the one we have come to know as the zombie. The genre itself came to attention with the aforementioned Night of the Living Dead in 1968, which spawned countless imitations (even from Romero himself). In Matheson’s I Am Legend, however, the last man alive is somehow immune to the plague and craftly attempts to study the pathogen that caused it as to find a cure. The aspect of scientific inquiry and the discovery of a new race (people who have been infected but do not turn into raging zombies, retaining their intellect) represent a facet of the genre that had been largely overlooked and underexplored. Matheson’s novel is still powerful, and I hope that the new Will Smith version (taking after The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price) does it justice. Dream on.
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later offered a refreshing take on a genre that had been long exhausted. A scientific explanation was given: a strange mutation of a virus ends up spreading from chimps to humans, turning anybody their blood or saliva comes in touch with into a raging zombie. For one, this opens up a whole range of issues that can be explored, such as the ones tackled by Matheson: can someone be immune? Is it possible that a new species may evolve from them? Boyle and his writer Alex Garland didn’t seem interested in this, but expertly developed the other intriguing aspect of the genre: that of skewed moralities. The final third of 28 Days Later takes place on a military occupied mansion in which the group of heroes — a guy, a girl, and a kid — are protected from the zombies but being abused by the military. We often get things like this in war films, as both the war and the zombie epidemic are only devices, or circumstances that allow these situations to take place. The Cillian Murphy character has to dehumanize himself in a scene reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, and turn to savagery in order to protect his (and our) moral views. The zombies are there, at this point, just for background.
There are no complex moral issues in its sequel, 28 Weeks Later. What it shares with his predecessor is mostly the grand scale and astonishing visuals of a ravaged and rubble-strewn London. Its idea of moral complexity, however, is a convoluted and weak Oedipal conflict, and having the military turn against the general population. After 28 weeks of the epidemic, England has begun to be repopulated. A woman is discovered (the mother of our young heroes), who appears to have a natural immunity against the virus, but remains a carrier. It’s a genetic trait, and a scientist (Rose Byrne) believes her kids might have it too. Doesn’t take long to figure out the rest: the epidemic breaks out again, and the kids, especially Andy (because he’s got different color eyes, like his mom) must be protected at all costs. The military, however, lost control of the situation and decide to kill literally everybody in London.
What ensues is just a series of irregular chase sequences that seem completely detached from each other. The pace is irregular, and the drama is next to inexistent. They try very hard though: our heroes’ father (Robert Carlyle) left his wife to die because he knew she would get infected. But when she reappears, the kids are furious. What really happened? Soon he gets infected and lurks around until he’s pretty much the only remaining zombie in the country. It’s up to their kids to resolve this deep, problematic issue. The dramatic sequences are completely ineffectual, due to this absurd situation, and the fact that nobody ever really says anything on the movie. How is one expected to develop character? Only Rose Byrne comes close to being convincing. The action sequences are exaggerated and shot pretty much handheld with long lenses, which make everything too shaky and confusing. One particular scene involving a helicopter is totally baffling and I wonder if director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo only did it because he thought chopping zombies with helicopter blades would be cool.
Anybody can pretty much figure out the whole movie from very early on (as much as the 30 minute mark). With nothing to hold on to, I was almost heading for the exit. Audiences rightfully laugh at the silly and glib ending. Turns out that the kid, who’s now a carrier, and his sister get on a helicopter and get away from London to the mainland. Doesn’t take long to figure out the rest: we see a horde of zombies invading the place du Trocádero in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower (!) on the background. Ouch. In the end, 28 Weeks Later is nothing more than a generic zombie flick, but particularly worse because it manages to do absolutely nothing with potential material. Although I think there shouldn’t have been a sequel to 28 Days to begin with. I just hope 28 Months Later isn’t being produced.\