It’s not that we expect a great deal from a sequel. Few can be said to equal, much less surpass, their originals. There’s GODFATHER II, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the second and third installments of the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. After that, the list dwindles. The list of sequels that land with a resounding thud, however, is much longer, and 28 WEEKS LATER, alas, falls into that category. It’s not just a pale reflection of the fine 28 DAYS LATER, it heartily dishonors its memory.
There is a brief idyll that takes place during the timeframe of that first, tarnished, effort. Here the audience sees what are, perhaps, England’s last free-range survivors of a sudden and deadly virus. They are enjoying what will become their last meal together before most of them become meals for the flesh-eating victims of the Rage Virus that wrought so much havoc in the original. Don (Robert Carlyle) is commiserating with his lovely wife, Alice (Catherine McCormack) about being down to their last can of tomatoes, and also being so very thankful that they spent the money to send their children abroad on a school field trip before the virus struck. As they settle down to pasta with their fellow refugees, one of them notes that in all of England, there are only the people at the table, and the rest of them, meaning, of course, the flesh-eating types. Just then, there’s a knock at the door. And then the attendant havoc that such a knock implies.
Things happen quickly and the camera reproduces the sense of reaction times not being able to keep up with what is going on. It’s good work from director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, but his direction becomes steadily both more derivative and more ineffectual, which turns out to be a singularly unsatisfying combination. Not even Carlyle, an actor with an edgy immediacy and a seemingly bottomless pool of emotion from which to draw, can do more than keep things afloat for the first 45 minutes or so. That would be long enough to bring the film up to its titular timeframe, and for Don to be reunited with his kids, Andy and Tammy, the first children allowed back into a quarantined England since the outbreak by the NATO forces currently rehabilitating the country. And there’s much along those lines to do after its population has been decimated, leaving behind a shattered economy and a nasty excess of corpses. One of the most frightening scenes in the entire film isn’t the flesh-eaters chasing down those angelic children. Rather, it’s the one with the military in hazmet suits piling up endless yellow plastic bags stuffed to bursting and labeled biohazard in what is otherwise a perfectly ordinary looking street.
The most affecting moment is when Don explains to his kids what exactly happened to their mum. The torment of not being able to save her is palpable. And then things turn bad, on screen and for the audience. Little Andy is worried he will forget what mum looks like, so he and Tammy sneak out of the safety zone, dubbed the Green Zone, on Dog Island in the middle of London, and head for home to retrieve a photo and maybe a few other personal items. Naturally there are more people out there with the virus. Naturally they bring it back inside the Green Zone. Naturally the military in charge has orders to contain the virus at any cost. Even further naturally, and for reasons too complicated to go into here, the kids who caused all the ruckus are humanity’s best hope for finding a vaccine or maybe even a cure.
A metaphor for the breakdown of the nuclear family? Perhaps in an earlier draft or maybe just in my dreams, but certainly not on screen. Unlike the original’s mordant mediation on the human condition, 28 WEEKS LATER is too caught up in zipping through a ruined London for either the characters or the film to ponder anything. Near misses, last-second saves, and people dying in distinctly ugly ways, sometimes in tight close-up, is about all that can be considered story-wise.
If you’ve ever wondered what a car barreling down the stairs into a subway station looks like, this flick addresses that. Though why people fleeing a military that is out to kill them, and a growing population of flesh-eating civilians out to gnaw them with extreme prejudice, would run into a dark subway with only one night-vision scope between them is never made clear. Bad planning, worse execution, and idiots stumbling down a steep escalator. Now there’s a metaphor for, except this one is for everything that’s wrong with 20 WEEKS LATER.