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