28 Weeks Later (2007) presents a terrifying view of the future in a world that has been ravaged by a deadly virus.
The follow-up film to 28 Days Later, it is less fondly remembered than its predecessor, though it does many things just as well. However, it contains some rather unfortunate details that prevent it from achieving the lofty status of “horror classic”, though it still has enough quality ideas and prescient themes to make it worth a rewatch, especially now.
Redeemed by its iconic opening scene
28 Weeks Later opens with one of the greatest horror scenes ever, a strength that will prove difficult to live up to for the rest of the film. A small band of survivors are barricaded inside a country home, trying to be as quiet as possible and make the best of a terrible situation by gathering for a meal – a sense of normalcy in a world turned upside-down.
This is not fit to last. The arrival of a young boy from a nearby village presents a chaotic antidote to this relative tranquility, for what he was running from will surely catch up to him.
What then happens is utter carnage – the infected break through and devour the inhabitants. Don (Robert Carlyle) is unable to save his wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack), and the young boy, and makes a break for it. He is chased by the infected, who dot the rolling hills of the English countryside like smallpox, while John Murphy’s iconic theme sweeps in. Robert Carlyle excellently portrays Don’s inner turmoil, torn between his failure to save Alice, and the need to survive.
This opening scene acts as a microcosm for the rest of the film: a safe zone created by the survivors becomes invaded by exterior forces. The infected have all starved but their contaminated bodies litter the country, and the US military has set up a base on the Isle of Dogs where survivors can maintain a semblance of normalcy.
Though I don’t want to spoil anything, I will remind you that this is a horror film and thus obeys the law of “if it can go wrong, it will go wrong.”
The film’s weakest spot
The rest of the film, while good, doesn’t quite measure up to that opening scene, nor does it have such strong characters as the first movie. The best we have are Don and Alice, who, after that opening scene, don’t speak again for most of the film.
Instead, we accompany their children, who lack any real agency, as they’re shepherded around by their American surrogate parents, Jeremy Renner and Rose Byrne, who are remarkably uncharismatic. There is also a criminally underused Idris Elba inexplicably playing an American army officer. A shame that he didn’t get to play a Brit when the film is, after all, set in London.
Perhaps the film’s most interesting aspect, second to the stellar opening, is the way the Isle of Dogs is set up as a kind of micro-city, where everything and everyone is processed and monitored. The feel it creates is similar to what our own world is going through right now, with drive-through checkpoints and apps that monitor infection levels.
All the systems and security measures in place, including the huge military presence (rooftop snipers, sentry guns, aerial surveillance etc.), aren’t enough to deter the microscopic danger at the door. The virus has become a force of nature, and the chaos that should have died out does not need much of an invitation to return.
What makes it a great watch
This is where 28 Weeks differs from 28 Days, and where it is at its strongest. Rather than focussing solely on a small batch of characters, examining what it means to be human and alive in a world gone to hell, it instead lends itself more to speculative fiction. How would we recover if this really were to happen?
We can draw many parallels between our current global climate and the film, especially when it comes to the fragility of society, and how it can be crippled within a matter of weeks.
Though we are fortunate enough not to have a virus that makes its victims gouge children’s eyes out, we should not dismiss the film as mere popcorn horror, but heed its warnings, if we want to live untroubled by a fear of our neighbours.