Monday, May 14, 2007

PBB Movie Review: "28 Weeks Later"

I plan on doing a full-fledged Spidey 3 review soon (especially informative after having seen it a total of 3 times, and not all by choice). In the meantime, to whet your appetite and my steely knife, here is a review of "28 Weeks Later," which I saw over the weekend. Think of it as tribute to the long-since-abandoned Better Than Critics movieblog of yesteryear.

Also, expect smaller reviews of the excellent "Music and Lyrics" and the disappointing "Catch and Release" tomorrow or Wednesday.


28 Weeks Later
(Rated "R" for rampant blood-letting, prodigious use of the "F" word, and lots of icky, icky monsters.)

[Note: May contain mild spoilers, but I'll try to avoid that, and really, you're better off.]

I love zombie movies. I want to say it's a guilty pleasure, but if you brag about your love for said pleasure, and you make no attempt to avoid or stop enjoying said pleasure, then guilt really does not enter into it. I suppose what I mean is, there is a chance I shouldn't enjoy zombie movies as much as I do. But I do. Greatly. Old school and new school (sometimes called "neo-zombie").

There are a few different camps vis a vis zombie film, which pretty much fall along the "zombie origin theory" lines. There is the original George Romero zombies of "Night of the Living Dead." These shambling silent hulks move slowly, as the neurological capabilities of the dead tissue has degenerated significantly. They were either dead already, or were "turned" through being bitten by an undead. These old-school creatures usually are either made so by magic, scientific misconduct, or an unexplained phenomenon. (Not knowing can often be more terrifying.) You get something similar to these in Voodoo practice and folklore. (Uncle Wiki also says that the undead concept was used in the Epic of Gilgamesh! Neato!)

New-school zombies (as I call them, anyway) are usually spawned due to a virus of some kind. (However, in modern Romero and the remake of "Dawn of the Dead," they were still of unknown origin, yet maintaining neo-zombie characteristics.) Neo-zombies are ferocious, quick on their feet, loud, and savage in their attacks. They sometimes take on more animalistic, intelligent pack behavior.

It's this neo-zombie sub-genre from which Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" emerged in 2002. It was everything the Hollywood zombie movie was not: low-budget, unpopulated with known "stars," and actually scary. In that film, a virus called "Rage" is being developed in an animal research lab in England, when animal rights activists break in and set an infected monkey loose. Thus is released the deadly virus, that is passed through any liquid transfer and activates in a new victim almost instantly. The films protagonist, Jim (played by Cillian Murphy in a breakout role) wakes up from a coma in an evacuated and quarantined London. He bands together with a few survivors who have to outlive not only the infected hordes but also a frightened and frightening military containment force. The title comes from the fact that, supposedly, the infected will only last 28 days with no victims to feed upon, before they die. This film was outstanding, and if you don't mind the disturbing content (and an early scene with non-sexual male nudity--gross), I'd recommend it with no reservations.

The sequel, however.

The film "28 Weeks Later" picks up, conveniently enough, 28 weeks after the initial outbreak, and about 6 months after the infected started dying. The threat is past, they hope, so a U.S.-led NATO force begins re-patriation and clean-up of the abandoned country. (The makers of the film hope the blatant parellels to the rebuilding and continuing unrest of Iraq are not lost on you.)

All the prerequisite cast members are in place. There is a loving but cowardly dad. His two cute but precocious children (to be more precise, one is an older teenager). A medical military officer with a heart of gold. A tough-guy soldier with a conscience and a penchant for self-sacrifice, and his just-trying-to-get-back-to-my-family buddy. Everyone ready? Okay, and UNLEASH CHAOS.

I won't spoil the prestige for you, but needless to say, the virus gets out again (to the fault of a few of the key cast members, mind you) and chaos resumes. The situation instantly gets out of control, so the military totally code-reds every friggin person in the place. Once again, our protagonists must survive zombie-hordes (including one zombie character with a positively Michael-Myersian knack for showing up EVERYWHERE) and relentless military destruction.

And oh yes, there is blood. Lots. (Brief math problem for you: Crowd of zombies on hilltop + helicopter with limited arsenal trying to clear a quick path = ?) And it just kept coming. Sometimes this was obscured and heightened by the cinematography. The camera work started out being spiffy like a handicam rock video on speed, but then just got a bit tiring.

Now, believe it or not, I actually enjoyed watching this film. No, really, I did. Mainly because I like the genre, but also because the characters, while predictable, were appealing and sympathetic. The visual effects, for the most part, were pretty neat, when they weren't trying too hard. The new director was trying to some extent to maintain the visual style of Boyle's original, and for that I'm thankful. The film was appropriately tension-inducing and scary. And the ending, though unsurprising based on the first big reveal of the film, was still satisfying in a "HA-ha!" Nelson-Muntz sort of way.

I liked it. But when I thought about why I liked the original, there was no contest. The thing is, "28 Days Later" had so much more...humanity. I cared more for the protagonists as people. Their journey was less grandly violent but more personal and harrowing. And that produced a real resonance, which "28 Weeks Later," with its CGI explosions and incalculable stage-blood budget, couldn't fashion.

One cool concept in 28WL was a scene where American snipers are trying to pick off the infected as a mob of people, some scared and some snacking, is running through the streets. The soldiers are freaked out because they can't tell who the hostiles are. That moment helped me better appreciate the psychological turmoil of American soldiers on the warfront, dealing with enemies that hide in crowds and attack from shadows. However, I wonder if the filmmaker would rather I focus on the fact that the mainly-U.S. military forces lost control of the situation and decided to bomb the crap out of everything and everyone as a result, killing the people they were supposed to protect and earning the total distrust of the survivors (outside of the few soldiers who heroically disobeyed orders).

In summation: "28 Weeks Later" is a zombie itself. A resurrected but still mobile plot with interesting (if familiar) qualities, sufficiently scary and fast-moving, but without a beating heart. Worth the six bucks I paid, maybe (or your four at the local video store), but I doubt I'd seek to watch it again anytime soon. If you haven't seen it, watch the original, and then Redbox or Netflix this one later on.

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