A teenage girl takes up a specialist military sniper rifle and makes a perfect shot of it with no training, improper handling and in very low visibility. A helicopter flies – nose down – close enough to the ground to clear a path by slicing its attackers into a bloody shower of body parts. A victim who could carry the antibody to the virus that wiped out a whole population is left alone behind minimal security in a medical centre.
They’re all massive holes in the plot of 28 Weeks Later and they’d ruin many lesser movies that take themselves seriously. Such is the power of 28 Weeks Later’s ability to take you by the scruff of the neck and just sweep you up in the bloody, horrible spectacle of it all. It doesn’t give you time to think, it just thrusts you into a claustrophobic cocoon of thrills and terror from the opening frame.
After Danny Boyle bought searing genre filmmaking back to British shores with 28 Days Later, he went on to the equally well crafted Sunshine (now in cinemas). In passing the scripting and directorial reins onto Spaniard Fresnadillo it looked like 28 Weeks Later would be another Blair Witch 2 or Saw 2; desperate and rushed cash-ins on blistering early success after the creative principals had moved on and left the studio with the rights to the name.
But with Boyle as executive producer and having shot some second unit footage, the grimy, sweaty, crackerjack terror that made 28 Days Later so good is still firmly entrenched.
We meet Don (Carlyle) and his wife Alice (McCormack) holed up with a group of survivors in the early days when the rage virus is still sweeping the country. Then arrival of a young boy brings the zombie hordes chasing him crashing into their country manor safe house, and after losing everyone – including his wife – Don flees, his guilt at leaving her tempering his escape.
Six months on and the US military have cordoned off part of the London docks to start their program of repopulating England after the infected have starved and the virus has died out. Don is a caretaker in a high-rise residential tower and looks forward to the return of his children from overseas, Tammy (Poots) and Andy (Muggleton).
But the kids – as they’re wont to do – make a mess of everything, breaking out of the quarantine zone to return to their suburban London home for photos, clothes and keepsakes and are shocked to discover Alice, ashen and silent but apparently alive. The military who’ve seen the kids’ escape show up and takes them all back, where Alice falls under the care of improbably young army major and medico Scarlet (Byrne).
More shocking than Alice’s survival is the presence of the virus in her bloodstream. While still a carrier, some gene provides her immunity from the cannibalistic mania that usually accompanies the disease. Despite being under quarantine, Don uses his access to find her and comes to her in tears, his guilt at leaving her eating him up. Alice forgives him, they kiss, and Don turns, killing her and bursting out of the facility to unleash a fresh outbreak that swarms across London.
With chaos again reigning, Scarlet, Tammy and Andy are joined by soldier Doyle (Renner) in a chase to get out alive while Code Red – the destruction of the city – is ordered and snipers, choppers, the firebombing of the city and the zombie hordes close in one every side.
Fresnadillo captures the same urgent, frantic horror Boyle did (no doubt with his exec producer advising) by the use of effective set design, this time aided by some great CGI of a deserted, trashed London. The grimy digital stock feels filthy, like a virus crawling over you, and the handheld war-zone style, terrifyingly insane rage of the zombies and liberal splattering of blood and guts complete a visceral, thrilling, scary and very nihilist horror movie for our times.
It’s full of the action, violence and dread you hope for from the zombie genre, and in being as good as 28 Days Later, it joins the canon of some of the best horror movies ever.