Most zombie flicks I’ve seen are American, and most zombies I’ve seen are the result of a virus of some sort that’s more or less accidentally released amidst the general population. Usually the infection makes everyone ravenous for human flesh and gives them unnatural strength
and the eyes of a serious caffeine junkie in withdrawal.
Well, nothing wrong with that, I say! To each their own. Personally I prefer my zombies undead, merrily groaning and shambling head-first into the same stretch of the garden fence over and over again.1
To be honest, I didn’t even remember that the 28 films are set in London before Jim (Cillian Murphy) stumbles out of a hospital and (metaphorically) runs smack-dab into a red telephone box. This is a recurring theme throughout both films: the camera focusing on iconic British landscapes and goods to make sure that the audience doesn’t forget where they are.
Once the largely unsurprising trek to discover Jim’s dead parents is over, Selene (Naomi Harris) exhibits common sense and apparent emotional coldness when she kills Mark (Noah Huntley; a brief role but well played) without hesitation after he gets bit. While badass in the beginning, the only female character in the film2 veers into the realm of stereotypes later when Selene tells Jim that he was right and the trek through the Infected world is better with company than alone, revealing that — what do you know — she does care after all!
As far as gender is concerned, the film doesn’t treat either its female or its male characters very well. The soldiers at the Manchester base all turn into mindless, rutting beasts when the cat is out of the bag after their chillingly pragmatic leader (Christopher Eccleston) confesses to Jim that he could only maintain the spirits of his men by promising them women. Soon after, there is a dire life-and-death situation as zombies storm the base, and all everyone can think of is catching a little nookie before they get eaten. Never mind that their potential partners are A) not willing, B) a kid, C) all of the above, and that you’d expect soldiers to be able to prioritise.
Jim, Selene and Hannah escape once all the other characters have been brutally slaughtered — because heteronormative symbolism is important! — and at the end of the film, they are staying in an abandoned house in what I can only assume passes as iconic country-side for the British. At the sound of a distant aircraft, they rush to spread out a giant HELLO sewn together from clothes and sheets and what other fabrics they’ve managed to scrounge up, and are presumably rescued.3
What never, ever fails to crack me up is the very last line of the film.
Someone, for some reason, decided that the pilot of the aircraft should be Finnish; when he asks HQ to send some helicopters to pick up the survivors, he sounds so wonderfully blasé about it that I can’t help but laugh. Plus that suddenly hearing “Lähetätkö helikopterit (send the choppers, please)?” is a bit of a shock to the system after all that Britishness because just, what.
Whereas 28 Days Later was a beautifully shot and tragic depiction of a society that has collapsed during a catastrophe and has no real happy ending in sight, 28 Weeks Later is just… dumb. The characters make irrational decisions for no good reason, act like they’ve been dropped in the middle of a set from the local coffee shop, the smell of caffè latte still lingering in their nostrils, and eventually refuse to die despite being worthy of an (undead, shambling) Darwin Award.
The film starts with a group of people holed up in a house, living on canned beans and Don’s (Robert Carlyle) questionable cooking skills. His wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) is distraught over their absent children, who have managed to avoid the zombie disaster by way of a conveniently timed school-trip to Spain. Zombies invade the house and Don is the only one to escape, leaving behind his wife because he’s a practical sort of bloke who doesn’t try to save someone who’s busy being enthusiastically group-hugged by ravenous zombies.
28 weeks later (see what they did there?), the zombies have all starved to death outside the safe, quarantined area called the Green Zone.
Citizens trickling back from wherever are housed in apartment buildings whose maintenance Don is in charge of, meaning that he has a skeleton key-card to everything. He proves this to his children, who are back from the sunny Spain and unimpressed by their dad’s new gig, by hitting a panic button and causing the entire building to go briefly into lock-down.4 Smart move, dad.
I can’t decide whether the kids’ overall ‘zombies, schmombies’ attitude is a clever commentary on how people react to disasters that don’t immediately affect them, or if it’s just plain ol’ bad writing. It does function to establish their
idiocy irresponsibility — soon enough big sis Tammy (Imogen Poots) takes her brother out on an excursion to pick up family photos and (more importantly) her favourite shoes from the family home — which turns out to be the one we saw at the beginning. The military-guarded Green Zone is also easy enough to break out of that a teenager can do it. Never mind that a sniper on patrol (Jeremy Renner) fails to call in the two kids on the loose, who should be escorted back in and grounded; instead he watches them go and does nothing.
… In favour of staging a pick-up operation with enough firepower to level the entire block after the kids make it home and find their Seriously Emaciated But Mysteriously Alive mother. Of course.
The film fails in many aspects due to narrative inconsistency and blatant disregard for what I like to call Real World Logic™. Here’s an example: Scarlet (Rose Byrne), the medical officer in charge of testing the incoming citizens for Z cooties, discovers that Alice carries the virus but is immune to it. She theorises that they could develop a vaccine with either Alice’s help or by studying her kids’ blood, since they may also carry the gene responsible. Scarlet’s commanding officer disregards this idea and orders Alice executed immediately. This is a sensible decision because, to recap, all other zombies have starved to death. Alice is literally the only one left who can infect people with the virus.
… Remember when I said that Don’s skeleton key works everywhere?
Alice is understandably not happy about having been left behind to be eaten by zombies, but she appears to accept Don’s tearful apologies — and kisses him. The virus is transmitted to Don via saliva, forcing a quick and immediate change in his plans for the evening. The now-Infected husband kills his wife and manages to escape the quarantine room she was held in, even though I’m reasonably sure that the door is the automatically-closing-and-locking type. This is only one of the many hits that Real World Logic™ takes in 28 Weeks Later.
Once Alice’s body is discovered and Code Red is in effect, the soldiers fail to scout the designated containment area before they lock the civilians in. Not a very good idea either, as it turns out.
There are some bright spots in the film despite the over-arcing shadow of suckiness. Doyle, the kid-friendly American sniper, is an alright character, and there’s no denying that Renner’s acting is good. He’s at his best in the scene where the army is ready to fire-bomb the whole Green Zone in an attempt to contain the outbreak. The group of survivors trying to escape are blocked by a panicked sniper taking pot-shots at them. Doyle tries to pep-talk one of the survivors into zig-zagging across the open space between buildings to distract the sniper so that Doyle can take him down, but before the guy can finish his panicked refusal, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), the younger of Don and Alice’s children, takes the matter into his own hands and sprints across, giving Doyle the opportunity he needs. Personally, I wonder why Doyle didn’t send out the smaller, quicker, calmer bait out in the first place, but maybe that’s just me.
Don, being an exceptionally smart and resourceful zombie, tracks down his children to a Tube station and manages to bite Andy before Tammy shoots their old man. The kids make it to the designated pick-up spot to meet Doyle’s pilot friend Flynn (Harold Perrineau), who is to transport them to safety over the Channel. At what the film says to be 28 days later – Jaws theme here, please – the camera focuses on the cabin of a crashed helicopter. It appears to be the same one that Flynn piloted, seeing how there is a torn family photograph that Andy carried with him and a crude drawing of a helicopter that says ‘for dad’.
We get shaky, hand-held camera shots of people running from zombies and, in case it wasn’t clear that we’re in Paris and that the infection has spread to mainland Europe, there’s several clear shots of the Eiffel Tower. The thing is, I don’t get what happened. Why the crash? Did Andy suddenly decide to start spitting on people and infected them? Did the virus mutate into an airborne version, thus infecting Flynn (assuming Tammy is also immune)? And what’s with the creepy drawing and the ominous ‘for dad’?
Who the heck knows. It’s worth mentioning that the soundtracks of both films are very atmospheric, the right kind of mix of hard rock and suitably calm sequences, but unfortunately in the case of 28 Weeks Later, that is nowhere near enough to redeem the clichéd plot and the unsurprising ending.
2 Arguably, there is another female character, the adolescent Hannah (Megan Burns), but she functions more as someone the intended audience wants to protect than as someone to relate to.
3 It would’ve been nice to see a cameo by either of them in 28 Weeks Later, as well as any reference back to the first film aside from the opening sequence.
4 Because surely nobody minds the janitor demonstrating his God-like powers by HITTING THE GIANT PANIC BUTTON that, if anyone has any brain cells left at all, sends a signal to several other places and causes more of a ruckus than a fire-drill in a hospital.
An early version of this article was originally published at ishamaeli.wordpress.com on November 03, 2013.