Sunday, August 19, 2007


RUNTIME: 99 min.
RATING: ***1/2

In the opening sequence, we’re introduced to Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack), a couple, who’re living with a few people, fighting their life out by hiding in a practically unlit home. The Rage virus and its carriers are out there, somewhere; the struggle is for the hour. Just as they’re having their dinner, a boy knocks their door, desperately. Don opens the door and the child rushes in, strangely so Alice embraces him. I said to myself-“Lady, are you out of your mind. You don’t embrace any kid, this is 28 Weeks Later.” Alice and Don just exchange a glance, and we know, there’s more to that instinctive act than meets the eye.
But nothing is explained straightaway, surprisingly because I was under the impression that this was another of those sequels to a very creative film. As we are introduced to their son later, we realize that the kid in the opening scene resembles him. And all this done with a rare subtlety. That is when I sat up from my usual slouched position (standard for all expectedly dumb affairs) and said to myself-“I’m in good hands.
28 Days Later, released in 2002, shocked and endeared audiences world over giving the flagging zombie genre a much needed shot in the arm, plus bringing a whole new spin to it. It was brilliant, both as a horror thriller and a post-apocalyptic human drama driving home what sheer innovation could bring on the audiences’ plate and how good some of the UK filmmakers were (if at all it needed reiteration). And all that at a shoestring budget of $9.8 million.
So, does the over-working Hollywood sequel factory pass muster against Danny Boyle’s (Executive Producer here) original? Without a shred of doubt, it manages to stand and hold its own against its illustrious predecessor, on all counts, aided both by some amazing technical innovations and huge dollar influx. It sure suffers from a lack of originality as far as the script is concerned but whatever is put on screen is riveting, aesthetically tasteful and to my surprise comes across as rather intelligent. Reason? Two of them-fantastic direction and wonderful performances.
There isn’t anything exactly special by means of the plot. For starters, Catherine McCormack’s character is supposed to die in the opening act itself. Now, nobody here is remotely Hitchcock and nobody brought in McCormack for one sequence. She is a big name and she’ll eventually come back. Stuff like that could have been taken care off by the script by providing a good enough reason. Unfortunately, the reason is less of a reason and more of a plot-device.
Since the Rage virus has managed to wipe off London, a U.S. led NATO force (courtesy Hollywood’s involvement this time around) quarantines the entire London area. A secure zone is opened for the first of the residents to come back from the refugee camps. Among them are siblings Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots) whose father Don is one of the few survivors. Through the means of some plot contrivances, some of them sticking out very ugly, the virus seeps into the secure zone and it is just running from then on. I bought each one of them but not one where Don passes into the military-medical area, nobody stopping him. That was just plain stupid; you’re supposed to have at least one man out on the door. Come on, even the dumbest flicks have some poor chap standing outside.
But those silly glitches in the plot aside, and believe me it is very easy to overlook them; the film is one of those rarities that you won’t find easily this year: a sequel that doesn’t leave you raging and running to the counter to demand your money back. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo must have done something really nice in Intacto (his only feature film before this) to have caught the eye of Danny Boyle and his partners Andrew Macdonald (Producer of 28 Days Later as well) and Alex Garland (Executive Producer here and the screenwriter for 28 Days Later) to helm the sequel. I have not seen his first feature film, but what I’ve seen here, he seems to have a bright future. Boasting of creativity worthy of Boyle, Fresnadillo, much like him doesn’t just go all out on the gore. A great emphasis is put on characters; the rare horror movie lately where I found myself caring for the characters. As is the case with the original, it runs along a very pleasant line of a human family drama and a sci-fi apocalyptic-horror scenario. Which of them is the backdrop is debatable and that is a debate I’m most pleased with. There’s a small element where I believe Fresnadillo scored over Boyle and that was in the way tension was created and the shock was provided to an ever-eager-to-jumpinseat audiences. Boyle wasn’t exactly original; there were times I could almost predict when the shock factor is coming in. But Fresnadillo’s horror doesn’t seem to rely on those shocks alone. They’re just garnish. All the variables are exposed early in the sequence, effectively taking out the “boo” moment. His real strategy is creating a sequence and let it take its own course and ending. There’re several moments that stand out- the snipers firing at everybody, the survivors trying to escape in a car and all of them are given a fresh treatment, not like those filmmakers who seem to be under the na├»ve impression that we have discovered horror movies only yesterday. Fresnadillo knows that and with quiet a generic material on his hands, plays his tricks. Most of them hit the mark for me.
The original had an unforgettable sequence, one of the sequences of this decade, where Cillian Murphy walks in a desolate London. This film does the very same, but with the London skyline. The view is unnerving. I will remember one sequence in particular here, one of the best tension filled sequences I have seen in a major horror film in a long time. At par in my book with the brilliant birthday party jump-in-your-seat alien sighting from Shyamalan’s Signs but completely unlike it, three characters are left in complete pitch black darkness with one of them guiding the other two by means of a sniper rifle night vision scope. All that is visible to us is the terrified faces of the two people.
Technically the film scores maximum marks. Although continuing on the same grainy look the original had, this has great many tricks of its own. Of special mention is the use of pitch black dark. Plus, thanks to the extra budget, there’re some cool sequences involving explosions through London. Then there’s one involving an aerial view of some gas spreading throughout the streets of London. The film uses these effects to further its story and not the other way round, and that is a very good and rare thing this year.
The performances are a major source of strength. Robert Carlyle is as good always. The film manages to pull off some of his sequences solely on the strength of his acting. The two kids are good too managing to make you care for them.
The ending, coupled with the writing, is what keep the movie from really being one of the horror movies of this decade. It still is, but marginally. That ill-advised epilogue in Paris came across as cheesy and another device to make a sequel. I’m not against sequels but don’t be so obvious. I so wish they should have ended it with the kid looking out of the chopper. That image would have been quiet impressionable. I’m disappointed that this film didn’t make as much money as some of the incredibly dumb Asia-influenced horror movies make these days. This is a good film, a rare cerebral horror film, bordering on memorable like its predecessor. But I wish they leave these films alone, the two make great companions (the DVD is coming home for sure). I don’t know what new road they’re going to take in the third one, if there is one. Will it be named 28 Months Later? For the sake of creativity and these two movies, I sure as hell hope not.

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