Disappointment is always felt more deeply after there is a hint of good things to come. The first clue that the zombie sick-fest “28 Weeks Later” would be an inferior sequel to “28 Days Later” comes after a promising, slam-bang opening.
Hiding in a cottage in the country with his wife, Don (Robert Carlyle) lets his survival instinct take over completely and runs, leaving his beloved behind to be devoured by zombies. It sets up a host of interesting possibilities—a film about survivor’s guilt, an anti-hero with a yellow streak, a fractured family drama once he is reunited with his kids. Instead, we get confusing political commentary, mean-spirited gore, and typical don’t-go-in-there horror thrills.
The United States military, occupying Britain six months after the rage virus has died out, is letting citizens re-populate a country still full of infected dead bodies. Presumably, this really bad idea exists so that director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo could have the sequel-friendly title of “28 Weeks Later,” so while it may be inane, it’s mildly forgivable. But when Don’s children enter the off-limits infected zone the very next morning after arriving in the country (they were gone on vacation), it has the same familiar ring of the stupid teenager that walks right into the dark basement by themselves.
A medical officer named Scarlet (Rose Byrne) is a sharp tack, despite her young age. She recognizes meddling kids (and bad U.S. foreign policy) when she sees them. They shouldn’t be letting anybody in just yet, much less children. What if the virus returns?
An American general responds in typical cocky manner, “If it comes back, we’ll kill it.”
It does come back, of course, and it spreads so quickly that orders are issued for snipers to kill everyone in the containment area, whether they are infected or not. The best zombie films, especially the ones directed by the genre’s master George Romero, usually involve the humans turning against each other. For this brief moment in “28 Weeks Later,” it looks as if we may be headed for some complicated drama, but the last half of the movie is just one big, seen-it-before chase scene.
The worst part about abandoning the two intriguingly sticky premises already established is that the chase isn’t even all that scary. The lightning-fast zombies and their almost immediate transformation into flesh-eaters offer huge potential for terror, but Fresnadillo is only interested in exploiting them for joyless scenes of escalating gore. He was also beaten to the punch by “Grindhouse” in a helicopter vs. zombie showdown that seems even sillier now for its attempt at utter seriousness.
If “28 Weeks Later” was also trying to establish that certain zombies recognize and target specific individuals, it could have done so way more effectively. Chalk it up to more dashed potential. (SPOILER ALERT) It was reminiscent of Janet Leigh’s quickly dispatched lead character in “Psycho,” but the idea turns sour almost immediately. Don is bitten, and immediately begins his quest to kill his children. He is the super-intelligent zombie that wouldn’t die, following them through a labyrinthine maze of underground tunnels and avoiding the entire firebombing of the quarantine by…wait for it…hiding behind a corner!
It is the ultimate betrayal of the movie’s early promise. Carlyle turns into a walking joke, lurking in the shadows at every turn. He pops up just when things get quiet, gnashing his teeth and staring menacingly with his beet red eyes. But how scary can “daddy zombie” be if he never gets his intended prey?
There’s something in the story about a possible genetic trait in Don’s kids that could be immune to the virus, but it does nothing for the story other than give us a lame excuse to want them to survive. And, boy do we need one. Like every bad slasher flick, these kids are as generic as they come. In “28 Days Later,” when a character became infected, it was a tragic event because we cared about them. In “28 Weeks Later,” the moment can’t come too soon.