Five years ago, British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach) reinvigorated the zombie flick genre with 28 Days Later. Shot entirely on digital video and starring a then-unknown Cillian Murphy, the movie became an instant cult favorite when it arrived in the States in June of 2003.
As movie-lovers know all too well, zombies are a determined lot, and they're back to ravage London in 28 Weeks Later. Rarely has a movie billed as a "sequel" had so little in common with its predecessor; 28 Weeks Later boasts a different director, different writers and a different cast than 28 Days Later. In fact, pretty much everything about this sequel is different, save for the setting (we're still in the UK) and the basic storyline.
Approximately six months have passed since the events depicted in the original film, and the so-called "Rage Virus," the nasty plague that turned all of those jolly Brits into raving cannibals, has been all but eliminated. The reconstruction effort has begun, and the gracious Yanks have sent in the U.S. Army to help restore order and clean up the mess. (Not surprisingly, the London-as-a-metaphor-for-Iraq theme is hinted at throughout 28 Weeks Later.)
The Rage Virus is not so easily defeated, as we soon learn when a refugee unknowingly re-introduces the virus into the remaining population. Just as the beleaguered Brits have started to get back on their feet, the nightmare begins anew. As the virus spreads, the army is ordered to liquidate London's entire population -- both infected and uninfected citizens -- in an effort to contain the outbreak. As a result, remaining uninfected survivors face the dual threat of ravenous zombies and heavily-armed soldiers.
Initially, 28 Weeks Later director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo makes a good faith attempt to stay true to the look and feel of the original. The first act is scary and real and very much in the vein of Danny Boyle's vision. Once the Americans enter the story, however, the movie becomes more or less a conventional big-budget action film, albeit one featuring flesh-eating zombies. Soon it's all about guns and explosions and elaborately choreographed set-pieces. And lots and lots of zombie body parts flying around.
Whereas 28 Days Later felt uniquely British, the sequel feels like it could have taken place anywhere. Only the funny accents remind us that we're still in the UK. The story centers primarily on the efforts of two American soldiers, played by Rose Byrne and Jeremy Renner, who take it upon themselves to escort a pair of very special British tykes to safety.
Fresnadillo tries to compensate for the uninspired storyline with lots of shaky, hand-held camera work -- a stylistic choice that proves frustrating (and occasionally headache-inducing) for the viewer. Attack sequences are shot in a kinetic, quick-cut fashion and filled with extreme closeups of both the zombies and their victims, making it extraordinarily difficult for us to figure out what's going on half the time. A later scene, in which a soldier uses a night-vision scope to lead the kids through a dark scary tunnel, bears a striking -- and utterly hilarious -- resemblance to The Blair Witch Project.
The disappointing 28 Weeks Later does manage to surpasses its predecessor in two categories: budget and body count. And unlike 28 Days Later, which at least ended on a hopeful note, 28 Weeks Later is unrelentingly bleak. Don't expect any happy endings in zombie London.