n “28 Days Later”, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to find a virtually deserted London. He quickly learns the “Rage Virus” has swept through the country changing the infected to zombies who hunt for humans to feed on. There are a handful of uninfected people, but their numbers are dwindling fast. He joins up with a group of the survivors and attempts to get out of the city, where the concentrations of diseased are, to the countryside. He and the survivors hope they will be able to wait for help and rescue.
Written by Alex Garland and directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”), “28 Days Later” proved to be an example of what could go write in a suspenseful, well-made horror film. The filmmakers realized the key to success in this genre is to give the audience little glimpses of blood and gore and concentrate more heavily on suspense. It worked and “28 Days Later” was a cult success.
I was worried to learn of the sequel “28 Weeks Later”. In this day and age of ‘horror films’ depicting the most gruesome acts in vivid, lurid detail, I was afraid “Weeks” would fall victim to this. I was even more worried when I learned the sequel would be released by Fox Atomic, the genre picture division of 20th Century Fox, whose most famous release to date has been the remake of “The Hills Have Eyes” and it’s recent sequel. “Weeks” seemed destined to be a blood bath and gore fest, losing all the elements of suspense that made the first film work so well.
I was pleasantly surprised by “Weeks”. Surprised in a good way. Director and co-writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (“Intacto”, a film I am not familiar with) has kept much of what made “Days” work intact. With the lone exception of one scene in which the blood and gore fly with unnecessary abandon, the film is surprisingly suspenseful.
“Weeks” begins a few days after the outbreak. Don (Robert Carlyle) and his wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack) have holed up in a small country house with the two elderly owners and three other survivors. With all of the windows boarded up, they seem to be relatively safe, trying to deal with the shock of recent events as they eke out a living. Then, a little boy bangs on the door and they let him in, just before a hoard of the infected zombies attack the house. Don and Alice make it to the roof, but Alice is soon surrounded. Rather than risk his life, Don runs and manages to escape, turning back to see the look of disbelief on his wife’s face just before they descend on her. Six months later, the US Army has secured a small area in the middle of London and are confident they have things under control. So they let some British survivors back, to begin repopulation. Don, in charge of the water and electricity of the area, anxiously awaits his children’s return. They were on a school trip when the outbreak started and have spent the last six months in Spain. Tammy (Imogen Poots), 15 or 16, and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), 8 or 9, run up to their dad, excited to see him after so long. They naturally want to know what happened to mom and Don tells them a slightly different story. Tammy and Andy want to go home, to retrieve some lost possessions, so they sneak off the island and commandeer a motor scooter. Searching through their home, they are surprised to find Alice holed up in the attic. An army doctor, Scarlet (Rose Byrne) runs some tests and realizes Alice is infected with the virus, but is not affected by it; she is a host and can transmit the virus through her blood or saliva. Don learns of Alice’s return and goes to see her. Then, all hell breaks lose as the Rage Virus starts to infect again. The army attempts to eradicate the virus, but can’t control it. Tammy and Andy manage to escape with the help of Scarlet and another soldier, Doyle (Jeremy Renner). Escape is relatively easy, then they have to stay alive.
It’s a nice touch the film starts during the same timeframe of the original, introducing us to a new set of characters living through a different version of the same horror Jim experienced.
Co-written and directed by Fresnadillo, “Weeks” takes a while to set-up the environment of the story. As Tammy and Andy arrive at the airport, vacant except for the one plane, they make the journey to the secure area on board the Tube, protected by soldiers, riding past soldiers standing sentry, listening to a soldier tell them about living in the new zone. As the subway car travels along the tracks, we see the evidence of the virus as soldiers remove the bodies from homes, stacking them in the middle of the street for disposal. But the remainder of the area is vacant. No people, no cars, no boats on the Thames, no movement of any kind. Once this is done, the film has established the environment the two kids will be living in and the difficulty they will have moving about, surviving, and making their way to safety. This is a necessary, welcome step in the process of establishing a successful suspense film. If we believe the surroundings, or environment the characters are living in, have to escape, we feel every moment of their journey.
How they were able to accomplish the establishing shots of London is beyond me. Street after street is empty of human life. There is no point of the day, except maybe the middle of the night, when any London street has no one or nothing moving along. As the two kids ride the Tube to the protected area, we see street after street, building after building, empty. The city is deserted. The River Thames is vacant.
The US Army is presented as a necessary evil at first. Naturally, there are no British soldiers to help with the containment; the virus has wiped all of them out, leading to the establishment of a “US-led Nato Force”. Led by Stone (Idris Elba, HBO’s “The Wire”), the force is very efficient and very careful to make sure everyone is safe. Some of the soldiers, Flynn (Harold Perinneau, TV’s “Lost”), a chopper pilot, and Doyle (Jeremy Renner) are bored and get up to some antics, but they are going about their duties. Then, when things start to go wrong, they naturally take the most extreme route and try to contain the problem.
The film uses a series of techniques to show quick flashes of the action, lingering on most for only a few seconds. There is a lot of handheld camera work, most of the cinematography is almost monochromatic in shades of brown, and the editing is fast and furious. The combination of these techniques help to create a unique look, giving the film a bleak, cinema verite quality which also helps to create suspense. As we never linger on any shot for very long, there are brief moments when the camera reveals a little shot of horror. Will an infected person appear at any moment and attack on of our characters? We never know because our perspective is always shifting.
With the lone exception of one scene, the film concentrates more on building suspense than reveling in blood and gore. The majority of the shots revealing blood or violence are just enough to get our mind thinking about it and in many, the blood is black or brown. Horror is always more memorable when our own mind starts to fill in the blanks and connect the dots.
This one scene, just before the virus breaks out again, is bloody and gory and excessive. It almost feels as thought Fresnadillo let’s his better judgment lapse and lingers on some of the elements of this tableau too long. We get the idea, yet he holds the camera over parts for what is relatively a long, long time.
That said, as much as I was grossed out, this same scene almost seems necessary. Because so many of the other shots are fleeting, giving us very brief shots of the horror, we almost need something like this to fuel the flames, to provide material for the future brief shots of people afflicted by the Rage virus featured throughout the film.
Yes, there will likely be a “28 Months Later”. The filmmakers have included a brief scene at the end of the film allowing the story to continue. Hopefully, the next film will be as successful as the first two.