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'28 Weeks Later' surprises by being the strong sequel we didn't expect it to be

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28 Weeks Later

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When I heard that they were making a sequel to Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later," I couldn't help but wonder why. How could you make a sequel to a movie like that without it being the same old thing? 20th Century Fox put together a company called Fox Atomic which specializes in horror movies and sequels to horror movies because god forbid the money stops there! They already released "The Hills Have Eyes 2.” I thought the remake was great, but I was not as excited about seeing the sequel because it had a different director who had directed some crap horror films.

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Now they have released "28 Weeks Later." That’s great, milk it as much as you want. No mercy and no respect for the franchise. But of course, these were my thoughts before I actually watched the movie. It had the good luck of at least having Danny Boyle and Alex Garland on as executive producers so that this follow up wouldn’t go straight to hell (and that’s regardless of the subject matter which is about the world going to hell). Under the tense direction of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who previously directed "Intacto,” "28 Weeks Later" adds itself to the list of sequels that, at the very least, equal the original in terms of vision and sheer terror, and it ends up delivering what it promises - an extremely intense and unsettling movie going experience.

All the main characters from "28 Days Later" are absent here, so we have a whole new cast of characters trying to stay alive while stranded in a part of the world engulfed by the rage virus. It starts off with a group of English people who managed to find refuge in a home where they hide from the infected. The main characters are a married couple played by Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormick who are seen preparing dinner when the movie begins. Most of the actors here are not too familiar to audiences, and that helps the movie in its approach. Carlyle will definitely be familiar to those who remember him from "Trainspotting" and "The Full Monty," and each of those movies show off the range he has.

The opening of “28 Weeks Later” has a supreme amount of tension that never lets up. I got to see it at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and I sat in the back with my hands over my ears because I was eagerly anticipating all hell to break loose as soon as the movie started. I typically watch most horror movies like that because it’s not what I see that gets to me, it's the sound. Look no further than the original "Halloween" for an example of that.

The opening is brilliantly shot because you feel like you are right there with these people inside the house. You don't see the outside world until they do, and it ain't pleasant. When the infected make their inevitable entrance, Carlyle's character ends up abandoning his wife who screams at him from a window in disbelief. He runs full force away from the infected, and the fact that he escapes with his life is both astonishing and shameful.

“28 Weeks Later” then moves to London after the outbreak and with things finally returning to normal. The US army has taken over, and the first of the survivors are now coming back into the safe zone (oh yeah, sure) to start their lives over in a land that is now free of infection. We get to meet the children of Carlyle's and McCormick's characters. They are played by Imogen Poots (never seen a name like that before) and Mackintosh Muggleton (beware Harry Potter). Carlyle’s character is of course unprepared to tell his children that their mother perished among the infected, and he lies to them about what happened to her. As much as you despise him for that, you can't help but feel a little sorry for him. Don't you hate that?

Anyway, his lie about their mother being killed gets exposed when she is found alive in a closed off area of England. She has been bitten by the infected, but somehow she has not been overtaken by the rage virus. Her blood seems to have some sort of immunity from the virus that keeps her from going completely apeshit. It ends up being incredibly tragic that her husband doesn’t have the good sense to keep from kissing her. A kiss is just a kiss? Not in this movie!

So of course all hell breaks loose, otherwise there wouldn't be a movie. The military tries to control the situation and they end up resorting to, when nothing else works, code red as they quickly see that there’s no stopping this infection. They can't tell the difference between who is human and who is the infected, so they resort to killing everyone to keep the situation contained. What makes this scenario so terrifying is that it is a very realistic and depressing solution to a horrifying situation that threatens to engulf the world. So those young kids now have to find their way out of the "safe zone" and away from those who have no choice but to bite and infect them.

There is a lot of shaky handheld camera work in “28 Weeks Later” which gives the movie an immediacy that sucks you in just like the original did. I have been back and forth in regards to hand held filmmaking because it can veer easily from being exciting to the becoming relentlessly annoying. Don't even get me started on the later movies of Woody Allen. I can't even begin to tell you how nauseous I got while watching "Deconstructing Harry" on the big screen!

But here, the shaky camerawork is perfect as it sucks us into the chaos that these characters are feverishly trying to escape with their lives. The camera goes all over the place to where we can't tell where the exit is and if we can trust the person next to us. Fresnadillo is excellent in drawing you into the mindset of the chaos and confusion of what the characters are forced to experienced. What if you can find your way out? What is the person next to you is infected? Where is the safest place to go? Everyone is running for dear life, but where is the best direction to head in?

What also makes “28 Weeks Later” work is that it’s not just based on thrills and chills as there is an intelligence at work here. There’s a subtle critique of the seemingly endless occupation of military forces in other countries as they futilely try to control a situation that is completely beyond their control.

Aside from those kid actors who are terrific and very down to earth, there are a few others worth mentioning. Jeremy Renner plays Doyle, a military shooter who quickly develops a conscience when he decides not to follow orders and instead a little boy who doesn’t deserve to die. Renner also played a sniper in Clark Johnson's "S.W.A.T." where he was the bad guy, but while he may be playing the same character here, at least he is one of the good guys.

I also want to mention Rose Byrne who plays the army doctor, Scarlet. I like it when a movie where there is a very strong female character who thinks she has found the key to eradicating infection. Of course, no one listens to her because the quick fix-it answer is to kill the host and everyone else if it comes into contact with. Byrne is very believable as a soldier who has no choice but to hold it together when the world around her crumbles horribly.

“28 Weeks Later” is an incredibly tense ride from start to finish, and it never lets up. There's an unnerving sequence where the main characters have to flee from a chemical attack by going into the underground subway which is pitch black, and the only way they can keep an eye out for infected is through the scope of a military gun which has night vision on it. In many ways, this is one of the scariest sequences in the movie.

Whereas "28 Days Later" had hope at the end of it, “28 Weeks Later” is unrelentingly bleak. Any hope is vanquished by the end, and its last shot features a famous landmark which shows how inevitable it is that infection will spread across from country to country.

"28 Weeks Later" proves to be very respectful to its original predecessor, and it goes even further into the nightmare that the world is caught up in and beyond everybody’s control. It makes me eager to see what I am sure will be "28 Months Later." But personally, I am waiting for "28 Millennium Later." The way things are going right now, humanity is doomed in one way or another.

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