“Everything’s fucked,” Alice (Catherine McCormack) tearfully declares early-on in 28 Weeks Later, and she couldn’t be more spot-on. As the movie opens, she and her husband Don (Robert Carlyle) are hiding in a boarded-up country house, unsure as to the fate of their children, living in constant fear and running out of food; they’re some of the few survivors of a rapidly spreading “rage virus” that’s decimating the British population, transforming its members into vicious cannibals with an insatiable craving for flesh. (Apart from the whole “undead” aspect, they’re essentially zombies.)
Ordinarily, it isn’t a good sign when Hollywood produces a sequel, particularly to a horror movie, without any of the original’s cast or crew, but 28 Weeks Later, the follow-up to Danny Boyle’s effective but uneven 28 Days Later…, is a tense thriller awash in political overtones that holds its own, if not surpasses its predecessor; Weeks is, at least, far more consistent than its antecedent, a generic mash-up. In a craven act of self-preservation, Don abandons his wife to die at the hands of the infected, and circuitously winds up, twenty-eight weeks later, in London, where he is reunited with his children (played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton, who one assumes tumbled out of a fairy tale and into the real world) who were studying abroad when the epidemic exploded. The zombies, by this point, have died-off from starvation, and US-led forces are now slowly repatriating English refugees and survivors, repopulating the United Kingdom.
Though Don is delighted to have his children safely returned to him, the London that surrounds them still bears the somber scars of the recent carnage: rooftops are painted with pleas for helpâ€”a pointed reference to the images from Hurricane Katrina, as well as to the end of the first filmâ€”and makeshift memorials occupy the middle of the sidewalks. After the opening action sequence, whose camera work is so blurry and frenzied as to render it undecipherable, 28 Weeks Later becomes a plaintive drama composed of small, intimate moments, with Carlyle primarily shouldering its loads of guilt and melancholy.
A fresh outbreak soon occurrs, thoughâ€”of courseâ€”and the film changes gears; as the occupying American army loses control of the situation, they decide to abandon their previous policy of “selective targeting” and, taking no chances, obliterate every living thing in London. This puts the survivors, then, in something of an unenviable spot, caught between a rock aperch with sharpshooters and a hard place populated by zombiesâ€”that is, if the infected don’t get them, the snipers, firebombs or chemical weapons will. (The biological attack comes in the shape of a smoky gray cloud, a clever and menacing take on the legendary London fog.) As in Boyle’s film, the savagery of the military becomes just as threatening, if not more so, than that of the zombies they’re pit against.
“It’s for your own protection,” the Americans tell the uninfected British civilians as they’re herded- and locked-up in quarantine, looking like Dachau Jews. However, it isn’t WWII on Fresnadillo’s mind, but the current situation in Iraq, and the parallels to that conflict are copious: American-led reconstruction efforts, for example, are run out of a stabilized area called “The Green Zone”, while flame-addled streets can’t help but recall Falluja. “The rage virus,” which turns the population into irrational, blood-thirsty brutes and activates a vicious military campaign, becomes an apt metaphor for the frenzied fear of terrorism pervading the post-9/11 (and post 7/7) West.
28 Weeks Later is a horror movie, but unlike many of its contemptible contemporaries it doesn’t have a lot of cheap “boo!” moments; it’s not scary so much as it is horrifying to beholdâ€”watching terrified civilians scatter in panic and vain as they’re indiscriminately picked-off is downright painful. Lacking the technical brilliance of Alfonso Cuar³n, the grim, cynical and poundingly appalling 28 Weeks Later is like a poor man’s Children of Men, and absent even the tiniest shred of hope. “Everything’s fucked,” Sergeant Doyle (Jeremy Renner) says late in the film, echoing Alice’s sentiment from twenty-eight weeks earlier; time goes on, new approaches are tried, but the situation doesn’t change, let alone improve. Like the war in Iraq, there are no happy endings.