Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sequel Season Begins Again

Well, I finally got over myself and saw this, the sequel to my favorite horror film in the last ten years (Save for The Devil’s Backbone (The Ring and Dawn of the Dead are remakes, so they don’t count)). Anyway, here’s what the sequel was up against. 28 Days Later was the first horror film of it’s kind in many ways: Digital video; grainy footage; it was the first fast-running zombie film in 20 years; principles were all unknowns; spookiest opening in years; incredible soundtrack; stunning visuals; believable characters; new cause for zombification; taut plot; riveting ending; average-Joe hero; and the list goes on. Anyway, the odds weren’t just stacked against a sequel, they were dumped and incased in concrete and then turned into a memorial to Danny Boyle. So, I took a hard look at the pros and then saw it. It was directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who’s directed three other horror films, one of them, Intacto sounds like a creepy Spanish version of The Cooler with Max Von Sydow. 

28 Weeks Later
by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
The film starts with six people in a dark, eerie farmhouse of indeterminate size and location, four of who are married. The first couple is Don (Trainspotting’s Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Shadow of the Vampire’s Catherine McCormack) whose children were sent on a school trip which puts their minds at ease, kinda. The others are the old couple who own the house, an angry loner named Jacob and a blonde girl whose boyfriend ran out on them days ago. They’re all sitting down to eat when a knock on the door and the screams of a young child give them all a heart attack. Don reluctantly lets the voice in, it belongs to a young boy who eats with his hands and tells them he was chased by a whole shit ton of zombies, who show themselves about 8 seconds later. The music from the ending of the first movie starts up, which can only mean bad news. The infected make short work of the blonde girl and the old couple while Jacob flees, and Alice and the young boy get trapped in a bedroom. Don goes after them and the infected quickly fill the room, giving Don one hell of an ultimatum, which cowardice makes a lot easier. He leaves his wife and the young boy and runs away, his tail between his legs. He watches helplessly from the road as his wife is overtaken by the infected and runs through a field, dozens of the things behind him. Then, as if things weren’t bad enough a bunch more come from over an adjacent hill. He runs to a lake where Jacob is trying to start a boat and jumps in while Jacob falls off the dock and is bitten and then begins attacking the boat as more and more of the infected make it into the lake. The boat motor cuts up some of the buggers in the water, turning the water red and Don gets away. Ok, so...guy from Intacto knows his shit.

The plot is simple after that: The american military has set up a quarantine in Britain where some incredibly lewd snipers are stationed. The most sympathetic of them Doyle (Jeffrey Dahmer himself, Jeremy Renner) and Flynn (The Matrix Sequels’ Harold Perrineau) are friends who seem to be of some importance. Don and Alice’s children Andy and Tammy are sent back to their dad to London, which has recently been reopened after the events of the first movie. Don lies to his children about how their mother bought it and then they go back to London to find a picture of her at their old house. They sneak past the surprisingly inept guards and make it to their house where they find not just pictures of their mother, but mum herself. The soldier’s quarantine her and the most irritating military scientist in the world finds out Alice has something in her blood that makes her immune to the infection. Scarlet (Wicker Park’s Rose Byrne) wants to do tests (ah, what’s a science fiction movie without a protesting scientist who wants to run tests) because they discovered that though she is infected, she still has all her motor skills. The military just needs to hear that she can still spread the disease through her blood and saliva and they want to kill her. Anyway, Don sneaks in to Alice’s room and she spreads her saliva around and Don goes berserk and kills her terribly and escapes, causing a code red, which means everyone has to be killed. It starts with shooting and ends with firebombing. It’s during this time that Doyle’s conscience gets to him and he leaves his post and helps Scarlett, Andy, Tammy and some expendable meat escape. Scarlet believes that the immunity gene lies in one of the children and puts their escape high on their list of priorities.

Ok, what made this film worth the price of admission. First of all, I really like Robert Carlyle and his thick Scottish accent, so any chance to see him act like a regular guy is always rewarding. Second, the visuals were amazing. Fresnadillo knows how to show you something beautiful in the midst of something heinous. I couldn’t believe some of these images; the scenes of the city at night were unbelievable and the scenes of the small party escaping the city at dawn and running away from the firebombing and whenever they found themselves in field (I have a weak-spot for fields). Also Andy’s eyes are a really great image; they are two different colors. Anyway, the fact that the movie was just beautiful made it much easier to sit through this bleak nightmare.

Ok, the major downside: the Americans. Except for Flynn, who escapes this fate because Harold Perrineau is a real actor who doesn’t need direction to act like a human being, all of the Americans are wooden stereotypes. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo might know how to film a cityscape but he can’t direct people worth a damn. Rose Byrne as concerned, caring scientist Scarlet is so fucking aggravating; any scene with her in it reminded me of a Disney film, that is until zombie Don beats her to death with the butt of a rifle. Renner seemed to think he was in a WB program because he acts like a dude for most of the film. For whatever it’s worth I was sad to see him burned alive, so I guess he wasn’t a total wash. Neither of these two sound as if they have a day's experience doing their jobs. The whole film just gets bleaker and bleaker and more disgusting as it goes. And I'll admit I was a little miffed when they tried that helicopter blade through a field of zombies trick. Nightmare City started it, Planet Terror ended it, 28 Weeks should have left it the hell alone. This is not supposed to be an Italian homage, so stop pretending it is. The fewer reminders that Nightmare City ever existed the better and this one provided a few, not the least of which was running zombies. And then there was the heavy-handed military talk. The military seemed to exist to remind the world that Americans are twats and they have really misguided military operations (No Shit!). Watching a colonel give the order to kill everyone in sight, I guess was supposed to represent the idea that you don’t know the difference between a terrorist and a regular person, or an infected and a not…whatever. It was more than the film needed. We know the military sucks and if English was Fresnadillo’s first language the military stuff might have been more poignant.

Entertaining, scary, tense, gory, bleak, beautiful. All in all it could have been much worse, however, I fear for this franchise so Hollywood take heed. NO MORE SEQUELS. If I see Roger Corman’s 28 Minutes Later, I will be very, very upset. Zombies might rise from the dead to tell producers what they think of a third movie. I’ll watch Intacto and see if I couldn’t have seen this coming.

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