28 Weeks Later

Starring Rose Byrne, Robert Carlyle and Jeremy Renner. Directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.
Running Time: 100 mins.
Rated: MA 15+ (strong horror violence, blood and gore)

It seems to me quite a while since I found myself watching a film in which my hands and arms and my legs kept so tense, conscious that the impact of the film was having such a physical (and visceral) effect on me. 28 Weeks Later is quite an achievement in presenting movie horror and terror.

This is the sequel to the surprisingly successful 28 Weeks of 2002 where a 'rage virus' has been let loose on the population of England and a British 'living dead' are on the rampage with isolated individuals and groups desperate for survival. The British military offers help - but that turns out to be an illusion.

Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland become involved in their very successful Sunshine, so took on a group of Spanish film-makers to come to England to make this sequel. (Boyle did do some Second Unit direction and he and Garland collaborated with the writers.) The sequel is an authentic follow-up in the spirit of the original - which has been highly admired as reinvigorating the vampire genre. This one reinvigorates the living dead genre.

It starts darkly, just over six months since the first film ended. Some refugees (especially husband and wife, Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack) are in hiding from the rampaging rage creatures. Tragedy strikes as the refuge is broken into and the husband flees, leaving the wife behind.

In the meantime, American authorities and military have been sent in as an occupying force to pacify the situation and rebuild society (though the screenplay never mentions the name Iraq - it is simply for the audience to think it). London is cleared and a small number of people are allowed back in (via security at airports which will look familiar enough to contemporary travellers). The daughter and son of the husband and wife come back home. Quarantined, they slip out of custody, breaking curfew and boundaries and visit their home - only to find their mother still alive. Her genetic makeup means she is a carrier but is not transformed. This has been passed on to her son. The father, declared well, has become a security guard.

As might be guessed, this precipitates a new crisis with repeats of infection, crowd panic, escapes, pursuits and elimination with extreme prejudice.

The final group consists of the two children, a sympathetic military nurse (Rose Byrne) and an American soldier who cannot kill any longer (Jeremy Renner). His contact is a helicopter pilot who could rescue them (Harold Perrineau). Since they left the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf and have to make their way to Regents Part for the rendezvous, the chase takes the group through a deserted central London (as did the opening of the original film). The aerial photography of London makes the city a character, reinforced as the group make their way over the Thames, through Trafalgar Square and Shaftsbury Avenue and, especially, with rifle green night light for sighting to Regents Park. The climax occurs at the new Wembley Stadium.

The pace is constant, editing effectively intense, scare and fright continuous. The special effects are gory at times and the makers seem to be showing off, flaunting (as well they might) their skills. However, unlike so many American films of this kind which exploit the violence and the usual young-adults-whom-you-wouldn't-want-to-know-in-real-life in grizzly peril, this film is intelligent in its approach and, given the apocalyptic scenario, offers credible characters and situations.

Without giving away the ending, can one now expect Vingt-huits mois plus tard?

20th Century Fox - out now

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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