'28 Weeks Later,' Still Too Close For Comfort

Survivors flee into the bowels of London after the return of the
Survivors flee into the bowels of London after the return of the "rage virus" prompts the firebombing of the city in "28 Weeks Later." (Fox Atomic)
By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007

Be forewarned: Even for a horror sci-fi zombie sequel, "28 Weeks Later" is LOUD -- so loud you'd swear the soundtrack has become embedded in your middle-ear membrane. But as outlandish, shrill and visually disturbing as the movie becomes -- projectile blood-vomiting! frenzied lunatics bashing their heads like watermelons against glass doors! -- the surreal film still feels anchored to the real. To the present. To us.

How could it not, with the notion of a foreign city under U.S. occupation, a Code Red alert in progress, surveillance cameras scanning from every rooftop, snipers picking off civilians and enemies alike, and panicked citizens fleeing this way and that? At any moment, you half expect to see CNN-style logos, such as "Breaking News" or "Baghdad: The War on the Streets."

The difference is that "28 Weeks," sequel to 2002's "28 Days Later," doesn't give you the snug security that television news sometimes can -- the sense that horrors are safely corralled elsewhere. Directed with lethal precision by Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, this horror epic is as viscerally compelling as smash-mouth filmmaking gets.

As fans of the first film will remember, a highly contagious "rage virus" turned much of the nation into feral killers -- frothing at the mouth with blood and killing indiscriminately. The scourge engulfed the British Isles so completely that they were closed down, quarantined.

As "28 Weeks Later" opens, the rabid ones are supposed to have died off. England has returned to pleasant status. The American military has established a secure "green zone" in London. And all the returning Brits have to do is breed, keep talking in delightful accents and reopen those tourist attractions for their American handlers.

But all it takes is one rotten apple . . .

The first movie, directed by Danny Boyle, not only portrayed a disturbing hell on Earth, but it spent time with its small cast of would-be survivors, played by Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson and others. There was a sense of apocalyptic horror and human lyricism, and there was a strong case made for humankind to survive.

But although Fresnadillo's movie is centered on memorable characters, including survivor Don (an affecting Robert Carlyle) and the reunion of his broken family, and a friendly American sniper called Doyle (Jeremy Renner), it's about staying alive. It's a B movie along the lines of "Night of the Living Dead" that plays like a reality TV nightmare with no narrative beginning, middle or ending -- just survival as an ongoing quest.

It's an experience for the smart part of your brain as well as its more reptilian corners. We can enjoy the aesthetic qualities, even as we cringe pleasurably at the shock-and-awe entertainment value. The tight, constricted camera angles -- there's nary an establishing shot to orient us -- makes us feel cornered in the death zone with everyone else. Those crazies punching holes through the drywall to get in are coming for us, too.

The images come at us fast and furious. Frenetic, flickery -- they're the movie equivalent of a David Hockney painting, that sense of the image being shredded into ribbons. Everything is breaking down, falling apart and somehow collapsing around us. We have to open our eyes to find out if we survived.

What makes "28 Weeks Later" so keenly disturbing, perhaps even beyond the fear we feel watching all those zombie films, is the disconcerting familiarity of the rage virus. That rabid state -- the eyes turning crimson, the blood springing from the throat like an endless geyser -- is simply a grotesque extension of the fury we have all felt at one time or another. As we watch the unfortunate ones succumb to it, we're not just disturbed by the rapid disintegration of a soul at high pitch. And it's not even that we might be reminded of those soft-spoken people who quietly loaded their firearms, assembled bombs and took their hatred into the world at large.

No, what's so disturbing is the disconcertingly easy transition that links the "they" to the "we." We are in the nauseating position of watching the worst aspect of ourselves.

To twist the undying words of "Pogo": We have met the frothing zombified enemy, and he is us.

28 Weeks Later (99 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R and contains disturbing violence and gore, profanity, nudity and sexual situations.

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