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May 20, 2007

“28 Weeks Later”: apocalyptic vision hits close to home

by Ethan Kuhnhenn, Online Managing Editor
Blood and gore, along with suspenseful timing, ear-shattering audio and witless teenagers who time and time again are in the wrong place at the wrong time constitute the majority of zombie-flick material. Follow this simple formula and more than likely you'll have the audience (or at least some of them) peering uneasily through their fingers for the rest of the show.

Of course, this fright is reactive. The average film in the zombie-genre doesn't instill a sense of fear nor leave that uncomfortable, lingering creepiness for days and weeks at a time. Only a few directors have mastered creating this type of fear; it's not usually because their films are the most violent or most technically adept. It's because they make you think.

In "28 Weeks Later," the chilling sequel to 2002's "28 Days Later," director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has created a refreshing spin on the zombie classics of old, drawing more on the fear of isolation, mob mentality and war-zone morality than the actual bloodthirsty "infected" that supply most of the violence in the film.

"28 Weeks Later" picks up 24 weeks after "28 Days Later" left off. Like the original, the sequel focuses on a band of survivors trying to escape the bloody streets of a disease-ravaged London. In "28 Weeks Later," however, the premise is that the US military is overseeing the reconstruction of London and is responsible for rebuilding the city and making sure that those infected with the rage virus (a disease that causes, among other effects, wrathfulness, cannibalism, pink eye and severe case of blood-drool) don't re-infect the country. This time, the film focuses on a young brother and sister (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots) who are returning to the city after being separated from their parents who were survivors of the initial outbreak.

Fresnadillo is a master of creating scenarios that play to real-life fears for many Americans. The film's wide-lens long shots portraying the isolation and emptiness in an abandoned London conjure apocalyptic images. In this day and age, where Americans are constantly reminded of the terrorist threat, a population-decimating disease like the "rage" virus hits close to home.

The US occupation of England also isn't purely coincidental. Some may say Fresnadillo's political statement lacks subtlety, but there is no doubt that the film is commenting on American reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Emblematic of the US's role, both in the movie and (according to Fresnadillo) in Iraq, is a young military officer's assuring line as she welcomes British citizens back into the country: "The US military is responsible for your safety." Uh oh, you know what that means. Sure enough, half an hour later, the US is firebombing the hell out of London's business district, rounding up all the citizens and then mowing them down with machine guns and sniper fire. Yet, when American sniper Doyle, played by Jeremy Renner, accidentally shoots a fellow officer in the chaotic tangle of infected and non-infecteds below him, the audience realizes the terrible consequences of war and the sacrifices the US is willing to make without hesitating to regard the morality of its decisions.

Of course, the heroes in the film are the characters that reject their commanding officer's orders. Renner abandons post and leads Andy and Tammy to safety. Helicopter pilot Flynn (Harold Perrineu, of "Lost"), who flies with a picture of his son and wife taped above him, also has a soft spot for the survivors fleeing the military's barrage of bullets and bombs and risks his life to transport them back to safety.

It's the morality and courage of these characters that Fresnadillo believes will give the audience hope in today's turbulent reality. Undermining this optimism is the fear that Fresnadillo instills—the fear of mob mentality, the fear of a humanity-ending catastrophe, the fear of an immoral military and, of course, the fear of bloodthirsty zombies.

"28 Weeks Later" (99 minutes, now playing at area theatres) is Rated R for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity.



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