Danny Boyle created a unique zombie thriller with 28 Days Later. A smash success in both Britain and America, it seemed only inevitable that we'd see a sequel. But Danny Boyle, in his enigmatic way, had taken writer Alex Garland with him to work on his science fiction epic Sunshine, and neither seemed to keen on looking back. Enter writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, best known for the genuinely surprising Intacto. He had an idea for a direction on the sequel, and with Danny Boyle's blessing, production commenced.
The end of 28 Days Later seemed to suggest that perhaps society had begun to take back England from those unfortunate souls infected with Rage, and this is the idea that 28 Weeks Later latches on to. But the film actually starts during the period where the Infected held sway over the land. The movie begins with a group of survivors holed up in a house. The focus seems to be on Donald and Alice Harris (The Full Monty's Robert Carlyle and Dangerous Beauty's Catherine McCormack). When a young child comes knocking on the door, Alice is determined to let him in, despite Donald's protests. Soon, Donald's fears are proven correct when the Infected come calling and tear through the house. His instinct for self-preservation overwhelming his senses, Donald leaves Alice at the mercy of the intruders.
28 weeks later...with the help of the American military, the English government has begun the arduous task of reclaiming their land. The Infected have begun to die off, allowing the Americans to come in and stabilize certain sections of London. People are called in to work, with those willing receiving plenty of cash and high rise penthouses to call their own. Donald is one of the men who answers the call, and is allowed to bring his children back into the country from abroad. There's Tammy (Imogen Poots) and the younger Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton; I can't believe he wasn't tapped for a role in any of the Harry Potter movies with that name), and while they love the new living space and seeing their dad again, they understandably miss their mother.
The story really picks up when the authorities recover Alice, still alive and seemingly okay. Once she's brought back for analysis, it's discovered that she has in fact been infected, she's simply immune. This poses something of a problem for Donald, who knows that he's directly responsible for Alice's condition. He approaches her to apologize, only to discover that even though she is immune to the effects of Rage, he isn't. And quicker than you can say "rampage," a newly infected Donald starts spreading the disease all over again. Tammy and Andy now have to survive not only the Infected, but the army as well, who is determined not to let the infection spread again, no matter what the cost.
28 Weeks Later does a nice job building off of the world in 28 Days Later. The film really clicks as you watch London in a state of rehabilitation. It's fascinating to see the aftermath of the destruction in the first movie. The scenes where people are trying to re-acclimate themselves to life in the city is a nice change of pace. Of course, we all know where things are going to end up, and it's no surprise when the Infected get a foothold in the community once again.
Danny Boyle pushed for a level of depth in his characterizations that 28 Weeks Later never manages to find for its own motley crew. The one character I found to be the most nuanced, Donald, is the first to fall prey to the resurgent virus. The kids, while not bad actors, don't hold our attention the way many of the secondary characters in Days did. And Rose Byrne's character feels utterly superfluous.
Where the film really succeeds is in its action sequences. Boyle's cramped handheld style was certainly kinetic, but the move up to film and a wider scope gives 28 Weeks Later a larger than life feel. When planes start firebombing large sections of London, you feel the impact emotionally. After all, this is a major metropolitan area we're talking about here, and moreover, there are people down there! What the movie lacks in serious characterization it makes up for with tense action.
Therein lies the overall success of the picture. You get the audience to care about the characters just enough that the action has some context, and then devise some ass-kicking sequences. The immunity angle is interesting and scientifically viable, but the movie never takes it far enough. Still, there's enough cooking in the soup to make this feel like a worthy successor to 28 Days Later. While it never hits that film's conceptual heights, it still delivers the goods in many departments.
The Blu-Ray Disc:
Fox presents 28 Weeks Later in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in this AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. I was really into the image on this title, which reproduced the theatrical experience well. As you might imagine, the films in the series go for a very stylized look. 28 Days Later used degraded DV cam footage, and 28 Weeks Later uses a jumble of different sources and film stock. The results are, of course, wildly uneven, but it's all intentional. The image will go from dirty as hell to crystal clear from one shot to the next, bouncing between a complete mess and HD goodness. On the whole, the film is desaturated and flat, but even then there are often fine details that you can see. Certainly not demo material, but technically well done.
Fox once again provides us with a DTS-HD MA lossless track that is useless with all but one or two select players, and even then only if you have a receiver with HDMI that can decode it. I don't understand why Fox refuses to use PCM or Dolby True HD, especially for a tense movie such as this. To be honest, I was expected a more aggressive mix. A lot of the sickening gore effects that we've come to associate with physical violence on screen are strangely absent here. And for a brand new release, the track is surprisingly front-loaded. The rear surrounds don't get nearly enough use, even during the action sequences. They're mostly used for the score. Sometimes, however, the whole thing comes to life, such as when the jets firebomb the city. Not quite what I was expecting, to say the least.
We get all the special features available on the DVD edition (thankfully), but all of them are in 480p. Hey, at least they're part of the package, right?
- Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Producer Enrique Lopez-Lavigne: This filmmakers' commentary is a little uneven. There are some great moments here, such as when Fresnadillo discusses how he chose to build upon 28 Days Later. There are some breaks in the discussion, though, and sometimes it turns into a description of what we're watching on screen.
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary: Two scenes, both with commentary. The best of the two is a scene in a dining hall where Donald and his children meet Rose Byrne's character.
- Code Red - The Making of 28 Weeks Later: Only slightly less talky than the making of for the last film, this does offer more production footage. Not a bad little recap, although it works best in conjunction with the commentary.
- The Infected: My favorite feature on the disc, this one shows us how the actors that played the Infected got into their parts. A lot of great rehearsal footage available.
- Getting Into The Action: A decent little featurette on the action sequences that mix interviews with behind the scenes clips.
- Animated Chapters from 28 Days Later - The Aftermath: A tepid animated version of a graphic novel that depicts events that lead up to the first film. While some of the animation is cool, the content of the comic is really poor.
- Trailers: Available for both films, these are the only features in 1080.
28 Weeks Later doesn't have the sheer brilliance of its predecessor, but it's still a worthy sequel. With intense action and some excellent scares, 28 Weeks Later ably carries the series forward. This Blu-ray disc does a good job reproducing the chaotic visual style of the film, although the audio is strangely held back. Still, we get all the extras from the DVD edition and the movie itself is worth a view. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.