Spawn of the dead

28 Weeks Later is a thinly veiled al­le­gory for the war in Iraq, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

28 WEEKS LATER Di­rected by Juan Car­los Fres­nadillo. Star­ring Robert Car­lyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Ren­ner, Catherine McCor­mack, Imo­gen Poots, Mack­in­tosh Mug­gle­ton 16 cert, gen re­lease, 99 min

WHEN 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle’s hys­ter­i­cally fre­netic mon­ster movie, was re­leased four years ago, de­bate raged – or, at least, sim­mered – as to whether the liv­ing dead in the pic­ture could prop­erly be classed as zom­bies. They moved too fast. They re­tained too few char­ac­ter­is­tics of the hu­mans they once were. And so on.

Well, the sprint­ing flesh-eaters still re­gur­gi­tate blood in a way no zom­bie did in Ge­orge Romero’s Night of the Liv­ing Dead, but, very much like those ear­lier ghouls, they now find them­selves the agency for a brac­ing line of so­cio-po­lit­i­cal satire. By Dawn of the Dead, the sec­ond film in the Dead se­quence, the zom­bies had taken over a sub­ur­ban mall and, by con­tin­u­ing to ex­hibit a ded­i­ca­tion to shop­ping, al­lowed us to draw un­happy con­clu­sions con­cern­ing the state of con­sumerism in 1970s Amer­ica.

You hardly need to be told that 28 Weeks Later, which is a con­sid­er­ably bet­ter se­quel than we had a right to ex­pect, takes the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Iraq as its sub­ject for al­le­gor­i­cal dis­course. Too many films have nudged and winked in that di­rec­tion over the last few years, but Juan Car­los Fres­nadillo’s film is to be praised for tack­ling the sub­ject with some­thing close to di­rect­ness. Sub­texts have rarely al­lowed so much of their su­per­struc­ture to show above wa­ter.

Some months af­ter the ini­tial ap­pear­ance of the Rage virus, all hu­man life in the UK has been an­ni­hi­lated – the In­fected, as they are known, ran out of hu­man flesh to munch – and an at­tempt is un­der­way to re­pop­u­late the coun­try. This be­ing the way of things to­day, the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary is in charge. Boast­ing that they have cre­ated a her­met­i­cally sealed ver­sion of the old world, the oc­cu­py­ing forces trans­port those lucky few who man­aged to es­cape mas­ti­ca­tion into a cool, heav­ily su­per­vised en­vi­ron­ment in Lon­don’s Isle of Dogs.

Among the sur­vivors we meet Robert Car­lyle, whose wife (Catherine McCor­mack) was ear­lier chewed up be­fore his very eyes. Be­fore be­ing gnawed apart, the cou­ple had ex­pressed mu­tual re­lief that their chil­dren – played here by the ex­ot­i­cally named Imo­gen Poots and Mack­in­tosh Mug­gle­ton – were safely abroad, and Car­lyle is de­lighted to be re­united with the tykes just as the all-clear is sounded.

The prin­ci­pal dis­tinc­tion be­tween the satir­i­cal me­chan­ics of the 28 films and those of Romero’s pic­tures is that, here, we are never asked to iden­tify with the mon­sters or see echoes of our own in­ad­e­qua­cies in their be­hav­iour. They are, quite sim­ply, just too darn ghastly for that strat­egy to work.

Fres­nadillo, di­rec­tor of the ac­claimed In­tacto, makes bril­liant use of their slaver­ing, fa­nat­i­cal blood­lust in a ter­rific open­ing se­quence, the equal of any­thing in the first pic­ture. Be­gin­ning with McCor­mack and Car­lyle shar­ing spaghetti in a re­mote farm­house and end­ing with him turn­ing chicken and flee­ing the sub­se­quent massed as­sault, the se­quence of­fers gore hounds suf­fi­cient meat to store up for the rel­a­tively lengthy wait un­til, fol­low­ing re­in­fec­tion by an asymp­to­matic car­rier, the beasts recom­mence their march across Lon­don.

Though the man­i­fes­ta­tions of in­sen­si­tiv­ity by the oc­cu­py­ing forces press home the film’s po­lit­i­cal pur­pose, 28 Weeks Later is un­likely to win over many film­go­ers re­sis­tant to the hor­ror genre. As the two chil­dren, hav­ing learned of their fa­ther’s cow­ardice, set out to make their way across the city, the pic­ture es­tab­lishes points of favourable com­par­i­son with such grim clas­sics as Es­cape from New York, The Day the Earth Caught Fire and sev­eral Qu­ater­mass ad­ven­tures.

There are, it is true, a few too many co­in­ci­dences in the later stages, and the mo­ti­va­tions of the liv­ing are of­ten some­what more ob­scure than those of the dead. But there is enough good stuff here for us to hope that the fran­chise rises from the grave one more time in an­other few years.

Fancy a jog? The In­fected re­turn for an­other bite of Bri­tain in 28 Weeks Later

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