28 Weeks Later

Director    Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Starring    Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Harold Perrineau, Imogen Poots, Idris Elba
Release    May 11th (US) May 11th (UK)    Certificate 18
4 stars


26th June 2007

With the original writer and director team, Alex Garland, and Danny Boyle, otherwise occupied with Sunshine, and breakout stars Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris tied up with Batman and Jack Sparrow respectively, one could be forgiven for being rather pessimistic about this sequel to 2002's surprise hit 28 Days Later.

Intacto helmer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has taken the reins, working from an original screenplay and an entirely new cast including Danny Boyle stalwart Robert Carlyle, Sunshine's Rose Byrne and Lost's Harold Perrineau. So what has the new director done to prevent 28 Weeks Later from being a straight-to-DVD embarrassment? Well, he's only gone and taken what is known in the industry as "The James Cameron Approach".

That's right, 28 Weeks Later is to the original what T2: Judgement Day was to The Terminator, and what Aliens was to Alien. Fresnadillo has rejected a simple retread of the original story of the deadly Rage virus, so instead it's apocalyptic consequences for the people of Great Britain, with more firepower, more explosions plus a broader, deeper scope than Danny Boyle's first movie.

The action opens with a thrilling prologue, introducing us to Robert Carlyle's cowardly Don, hiding out during the events of the original infection with his wife and several others. As their sanctuary is shattered by the arrival of a horde of rampaging Infected, Don finds to his horror that he lacks the courage to stay and attempt to save the others, and instead flees to safety himself, leaving his wife for dead. The story picks up, in a great Ronseal moment, 28 weeks later, with Britain all but emptied, and the last of the Infected having starved to death. The US army have arrived, and have begun the slow process of repopulating the country, starting with London's renamed "District One". Amongst the survivors and refugees flown in to resettle the area are Don's two children, who were conveniently out of the country at the time of the initial outbreak.

Carlyle turns in a typically accomplished performance, as a man racked with guilt, thoroughly ashamed that his behaviour has fallen somewhat short of the kind of heroics usually associated with protagonists in these films. There's only time for so much kitchen-sink drama, however, as the dormant Rage virus unexpectedly bursts back into life. Which is, thankfully, where things get nasty again.

The US army have, of course, come with a contingency plan for such an event, and before you can say Aliens the violence has started. The action scenes are shot in the same documentary style used to such stunning effect by Danny Boyle in the first film, and serve to make the scenes of carnage on the streets of London even more spectacular. Inevitably, people will draw parallels between the US military's heavy-handed approach in the film and with real-life events in the Middle East. To appease our friends across the Atlantic, Fresnadillo has been careful to give the more prominent American characters a conscience, even while their colleagues are happily firebombing their way across London.

In conclusion, it is hard not to be impressed with what a good job the new cast and crew have done with what could easily have been a cheap cash-in destined for the Asda bargain buckets. 28 Weeks Later broadens the scope of the mythology, with international forces being drawn into the conflict, as well as delving deeper into the nature of the virus, hinting at possible antidotes and immunities. The action starts right from the prologue and keeps a fairly steady pace throughout, with enough shocks, twists and jumps to keep an audience interested.

Thoroughly recommended. And I didn't say 'zombie' once. Damn it.

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