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Posts Tagged ‘zombies (near enough)’

Haven’t watched any Olympics so far, don’t feel this has blighted my life, didn’t watch the opening ceremony either – if you really must know, I came across a copy of Gamera the Invincible on the internet and found the prospect of watching that far more appealing. Nevertheless, from all I hear I Love Wonder was a great success. Spiffing; hopefully now Danny Boyle can get back to making horror movies as only he can.

I am of course particularly anticipating Boyle getting to work on 28 Months Later, and I suppose this is a little surprising as I seem to recall being a bit lukewarm about 28 Days Later when it first appeared in 2002. I didn’t think it was a bad film, I just wasn’t as impressed as many other people clearly were. Nevertheless, despite my usual policy of not buying films on DVD unless I’ve already seen them and know they’ll reward many viewings, I bought the box set of it and its sequel, which I missed at the cinema, the first chance I got.

For 28 Weeks Later Boyle stepped back from the director’s position and let Juan Carlos Fresnadillo have a go, although I’ve been told he handled the opening sequence personally. This is not surprising as it’s one of the most visceral and disturbing parts of the film. Here we meet Don (Robert Carlyle), an average family man who’s taken refuge from the outbreak of the Rage virus in a country farmhouse. (This section is set during the same timeframe as the first movie.) However, he and the people he is with are discovered by a pack of infected and he is forced to flee, the only survivor – his desperation to escape making him commit a genuinely shocking act.

Months later, as suggested by the end of the first film, the infected have died of starvation leaving mainland Britain ruined and empty. Refugees who escaped the quarantine are being repatriated by a US Army task force, based at an enclave in central London. Two of the latest arrivals are Don’s kids Andy and Tamsin (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots – yeah, like those are their real names!) – despite the fact that the presence of children does not sit well with chief medical officer Scarlett (the lovely Rose Byrne).

Scarlett’s concerns prove well-founded when the kids slip out of the compound and discover someone who has survived the outbreak of the Rage. The problem is that they have done so due to a genetic anomaly, which makes them an asymptomatic carrier of the virus: they carry inside them the seeds of a second outbreak, and one which could potentially be even more dangerous than the original…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve seen this film: the recap above presents the facts of the story rather idiosyncratically, but this is only because I want to preserve some of the shocks and surprises built into the plot. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure the focus on Don and his family completely works as the film progresses – given what we saw of the virus and the infected in the first film, the way that some characters behave in the later stages of this one is a little bit startling. (The issue of why the infected don’t simply turn on each other becomes an even more clouded one.)

I suppose one could be accused of taking a very gory zombie movie a bit too seriously by even worrying about this sort of thing, but both these movies are smarter than you’d expect and thus deserve serious consideration. It seems to me that both these films are, on some level, about fear of the mob and the innate human capacity for savagery, but 28 Weeks Later adds a new layer to this by being much more openly political. The repatriatees live in a ‘Green Zone’, while the US Army have, possibly prematurely, declared a formerly hazardous area safe.

It’s very clear that the US Army’s occupation of London is intended, on some level, as a satire on the occupation of Iraq, which adds a new subtext to latter scenes, in which their general (Idris Elba) orders his troops to fire upon civilians to stop the Rage spreading. It’s an interesting idea, and allows for some stunning images – the Isle of Dogs being firebombed, helicopter gunships attacking civilian vehicles in central London – as well as (of course) allowing some American stars to appear in the cast (Jeremy Renner and Harold Perrineau are the most prominent). But I still don’t think this subtext of the film completely makes sense, not least because – on one level – the general is clearly justified in taking whatever measures are necessary to stop the virus spreading.

Nevertheless, this angle, and the fact that as a result this is much more of an action-chase movie than the first one, definitely give it its own identity. I think part of the reason for my subdued response to the Danny Boyle film was that it did seem to me to be an obvious mash-up of two sources I already knew very well (Night of the Living Dead and The Day of the Triffids). I’m not saying 28 Weeks Later is a better film, but I think I’ve watched it more often, quite simply because it is more original.

That said, I did respond rather negatively to it the first time I saw it. Quite apart from the ungallant treatment meted out to the lovely Rose Byrne, I was repelled by the overwhelming, nightmarish¬†bleakness of the film’s atmosphere and story, and especially its ending (as is common, the original doesn’t really leave obvious material for a sequel – this one goes out of its way to allow the story to continue, but of course the rights then got tied up, leaving the third installment in limbo). But now it seems to me that this is the horror of the film, as much as in the splatter and gore – unsympathetic though he is, the general’s ruthless approach to the crisis is ultimately proven to be the right one. It’s the human sympathy and affection shown by many of the main characters which is misplaced and ultimately results in catastrophe (I suppose you could also argue it’s all Don’s fault, but spoilers await). Compassion and empathy, in this film, are what wind up getting you killed, and that’s not a comforting message.

As I said, the ending is left wide open for further episodes (although I’m not sure what they can do with the titles after 28 Months Later – entering the realm of years and decades stretches credibility somewhat), the main challenge being simply to match the level of ingenuity and originality set by this first follow-up. I hope they manage it; this is a superior sequel and a memorable horror movie in its own right.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published 7th November 2002:

‘John Wyndham did not invent the UK novel of secretly-longed-for disaster… but he effectively domesticated some of its defining patterns: the city (usually London) depopulated by the catastrophe; the exodus, with its scenes of panic and bravery; and the ensuing focus on a small but growing nucleus of survivors who reach some kind of sanctuary in the country and prepare to re-establish man’s shaken dominion.’ – John Clute, The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction

There are some things that we here in Britain like to think we do better than anyone else. Costume dramas. Glam rock. Jingoistic psychosis (especially when it comes to our chances in sporting events). And the End of the World. The catastrophe novel was one of the mainstays of British literary SF throughout the 20th century, ranging from J.G. Ballard’s The Drought (apocalypse by drought), to John Christopher’s The Death of Grass (apocalypse by famine), and going right back to Richard Jefferies’ 1885 novel After London. Of course, in recent years American writers and filmmakers such as Stephen King and George Romero have done much interesting work in this genre, but it’s still enormously pleasing to see British storytellers return to the idea – as they do in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later.

Boyle’s film, written by Alex Garland (author of The Beach – so he’s clearly a forgiving man), superficially resembles a transatlantic take on the subject, not least in that the disaster that destroys civilisation is a form of plague rather than a natural catastrophe. But it seemed to me that the major influence on this film was the most famous of the all the British post-apocalypse novels, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.

The film starts with a brief pre-credits sequence in which animal rights activists break into a lab with the intention of releasing chimpanzees that are being used as test subjects. Little do they realise the apes are infected with ‘rage’, a viral agent spread by blood and saliva, inducing a berserk, feral mania in those infected…

28 days later (hence the title) bike courier Jim (newcomer Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a London hospital – he was involved in a traffic accident some weeks earlier. The place seems deserted… and not just the hospital, the whole city. Early signs that some terrible disaster has occurred are confirmed when he is set upon by deranged, infected strangers… But he’s rescued by fellow survivors Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), who fill him in about the rising tide of violence that swept away civilisation. Eventually they meet up with former taxi-driver Frank (Brendon Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), who have heard about a possible sanctuary, up north. But it turns out that the infected don’t hold the monopoly on irrational violence…

28 Days Later draws upon a number of sources: the infected hordes are a slightly more athletic take on George Romero’s rabid zombies (from Dawn of the Dead, etc), while another less explicit influence seems to have been The Omega Man (for one thing, to begin with Harris’ character dresses and acts like Rosalind Cash from that movie). But Wyndham (or at least, the catastrophe story as defined by Wyndham) seems to have supplied most of the inspiration (and certainly the opening). The coming together of survivors, the cheerful looting of shops, the abandonment of the city for a rural refuge, and the country house under siege: they’re all here, along with the vital conflict between pre-apocalypse morality and the needs of post-apocalypse survival.

I’ve always thought Danny Boyle to be a rather overrated and pretentious director but here he does a very good job indeed. His stylistic flourishes don’t get in the way of the story, and he handles the action sequences with aplomb. There are some startlingly big stunts in this movie, which basically blow Boyle’s cover: this film isn’t made on grainy digital video because it has a particularly low budget, but simply because Boyle likes the medium. It works to his advantage, though, giving some sequences an oddly dream- or nightmare-like quality, particularly those in the impressively-staged empty London.

Most of the performances are fine, too: Murphy is an engaging screen presence, as is Harris. Brendan Gleeson is particularly affecting as the concerned father. There are only a couple of off-key turns: Christopher Eccleston, normally so good, struggles to convince as an army officer determined to rebuild civilisation at any cost. And in the vital precredits sequence, the role of the scientist who explains the dangers of the ‘rage’ virus is played by David Schneider, a man best known for playing Alan Partridge’s stooge, with all the credibility problems that raises.

And, if we’re honest, telling this kind of story on film always has its problems, mainly in coming up with a ending that’s satisfying without seeming glib. Certainly 28 Days Later weakens near the end as it first turns into a more orthodox action-thriller, before abandoning its grim but coherent subtext (human beings are innately violent and self-destructive creatures) for an unlikely, hopeful conclusion. But these are minor flaws in an engaging and well-made film. It may not capture the existential dread and crushing sense of loss of the best of its literary antecedents, but this is still the best screen treatment of this genre in over twenty years. Recommended.

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