Tuesday, October 9, 2007

28 Days Leads to Weeks Later...


Horror — like comedy — is entirely subjective. What some folks may find terrifying others find silly. And, of course, the reverse can be true. As horror film tropes go, nothing has the potential to descend into utter ridiculousness more than the zombie film. And before the keyboard battalion of internet Cliff Clavens chime in with "You know, that's not entirely accurate — 28 DAYS LATER isn't exactly a zombie film..."

Yeah, I get it... the Ragers in the two films aren't exactly zombies. But like zombies, they're weird and pissed off and don't remember how to play nice. That's close enough for a game of hand grenades and horseshoes.

But 28 DAYS LATER... and 28 WEEKS LATER... don't play around. This is deadly serious business here and, as a white-knuckle ride into primal horror, more than welcome entries into the admittedly weak zombie canon.

The first film dealt with the set-up:

A bunch of ALF types busts into a Brit animal research lab, bent on liberating the research animals. Unfortunately, they liberate a bit more than they bargained for when an ungrateful chimpanzee promptly bites the hand that freed it, setting off a chain of infection. Seems the gub'mint has been working on a viral form of rage. Nasty stuff, it seems. Once infected, a poor sap goes from happy-smiley to wild-eyed and frothing-at-the-mouth in seconds flat.

Twenty-eight days later some nekkid bicycle delivery guy called Jim wakes up in a hospital bed to find that the city of Big Ben is half past dead. After mucking about for a while in the ruins, he finally hooks up with some other folks, which is good, because there are some severely messed-up people still roaming the streets — we're talking the tweaker version of a George Romero convention here. The infected are fueled by an all-consuming rage that blinds them to anything, save for spreading the disease (not unlike Rush Limbaugh listeners, but only slightly less open to reason).

Although 28 DAYS LATER isn't the most attractive film to watch (although shot with tricked-out Canon XL-1s, it is admittedly an inspiration to DIY digital moviemakers), it does maintain a serious level of dread. Well, to a point. After our hero and his new friends head out to the boonies to look for a promised bastion of civilization, things tend to lag a little. Just a little, because things get a little loopy when they finally do hook up with civilization.

The only issue I have here is how derivative the film is. Anyone who remembers DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS is gonna go, "Hey, wait a minute...."

We're talking very casual riffing here: substitute deranged, bloodthirsty feral folk for the bloodthirsty broccoli of the original. Add to that various "tributes" to the Romero trilogy and ensuing knock-offs, and ol' Danny Boy's doing a whole lot of borrowing here. But then, I'm far enough along in this game where I'm a little tired of homages and just want to see what the directors have to say for themselves.

Actually, a couple more issues...

It's best not to give much thought to the implication that Jim spent three unmolested weeks in an unsecured hospital bed as all bloody hell broke loose around him. Because after that comes the wondering about how he spent so long a time unmolested in his hospital bed as the city went to hell, how he went near a month without an IV refill, and how he manages to wander about a Rager-packed London all day before he finally encounters some just before nightfall.

But if you can get past that, then you'll be able to swallow anything that happens in the sequel.

28 WEEKS LATER... picks up ... well, six months later.

London has been re-secured by the United States military and the infected starved out. Civilians are being brought in to reseed the Isle of Dogs, a London peninsula and obviously some prime real estate.

But due to an unfortunate lack of intuition on the part of an Army doctor overseeing the project, all hell breaks loose again and the Yanks are up to their armpits in Iraq allegory.

Some viewers had issues with how inept the military came across in the film. I didn't have a problem with them being presented as being a little off their game in this, because I spent four years in the military... so I've seen that if there's a possibility for the brass to find a way to screw things up and then exacerbate (heh) the situation, they'll find it.

There's a reason the acronyms SNAFU and FUBAR came from the military.

Also at issue was the handheld camera approach that was used during the attack scenes. Some folks hate the shaky-cam, I don't mind it if there is a point behind it. Here, I thought that it was an interesting choice on the director's part... a lot of tight close ups during the conversational points, and a lack of cover shots during the chaos to try to put the audience in the scene as almost (as close as you could get) being a participant, rather than a casual observer to the narrative.

The film was near pitch-perfect in delivering what I want out of a horror flick (aside from one sort of silly bit that was already touched on in a few weeks before with the release of GRINDHOUSE). In the first movie, the infected just ran around in a rage attacking the uninfected; here, subtext is added to underscore what fuels that rage.

The movie also works better than its antecedent as far as acting. While Cillian Murphy's Jim in the first entry was a bit of a cypher, here we're offered some incredible nuance in the performances of Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack. We're talking an almost imperceptible tick of the lips, a twitch of the eye that conveys a lot more shadings to what the character is feeling that may not be picked up on a television screen.

Let's put it this way: Even being a horror junkie of the old school, I was curled up in a ball in my seat for the last hour. And I'll cop... there was one point where I actually sobbed, the dusty waterworks spilling open for the first time since...

...um...

... Bambi's mother got shot?

This was the best white-knuckle horror film I've seen in years. It's not as meditative as the first one, but it sure is a lot more primal.

And in its essence, isn't that what a good horror film is supposed to be?

1 comment:

ARBOGAST said...

Immediately after watching 28 WEEKS LATER, I thought I'd never watch it again. Oh, I liked it, but it's just too hardcore, too merciless, too cold (compared to the warm fuzzies of the original). And yet today I feel like I could sit down and watch it again... not because it's fun but because the movie really does treat humanity (warts and all) squarely and that is so fucking rare.