Friday, November 13, 2009

28 Weeks Later (2007)

Review #0031

28 Weeks Later is like beer in a bong, but not the usual kind, the Big Ten kind. It's forced down your throat for maximum intoxication, and after a while, it makes you wanna puke! Wow! Never thought I'd manage to find such a perfect metaphor to describe this film... You see, I saw it back in 2007, when it was still in theaters. And I liked it. Only now, after seeing it on a normal screen with normal sound, do I realize how poor it actually is. And I also realize why I originally found it okay: it had been crammed in my throat with such violence that I had no choice but to swallow. Seen on a big screen, with aggressive sound blasting through mega-speakers, that pile of stinking sewage sludge can actually manage to be somewhat effective, in a sort of visceral, shameful way.

Plotwise, 28 Weeks Later is a bridge between Danny Boyle's sleeper hit of 2002 (28 Days Later) and an hypothetic sequel (28 Months Later) strongly suggested by a Paris-set cliffhanger. The film opens in the plague-infected British countryside, where a bunch of survivors are surviving in a walled-up farmhouse. Two protagonists are introduced, both of which don't last past the halfway mark of the film: Don Harris (Robert Carlyle) and wife Alice (Catherine McCormack). When the farmhouse is attacked (in a neurotic flurry of super-loud, badly-framed close-ups), Don cowardly flees, leaving Alice to be devoured. Flash-forward to post-epidemic, NATO-controlled Britain. Reconstruction has started within the heavily-militarized Isle of Dogs where 15,000 British refugees have been temporarily relocated. There, Tammy and Andy Harris meet up with father Don, who sugar-coats the story of Mum's demise. Unfortunately for everybody on the Isle, Mum was actually immune to the plague, and has survived. When she is brought back to her family, she infects Don, and all hell breaks loose. That is, the editing becomes so choppy that it is soon impossible to actually discern what is going on. Lucky thing too, since every shot looks like a cheap stock shot of some extra spitting blood toward the lens, taken by an hyperactive child on a motorcycle driven by a blind trunk-man.

The picture I have posted above is quite representative of what the film has to offer: an endless series of badly-framed, out-of-focus close-ups featuring some part of a zombie. With the sound amplified tenfold, it makes for some quite pulse-pounding viewing, but in a sort of cheap, dishonest way. Excitement is created through aggression, thanks to the overwhelmingly popular belief that the cheapest-possible, pseudo-hand-held shot is more realistic than a carefully crafted one. Such pseudo-realism functions well during the action sequences, but it cannot be applied across the board! A shot of some medical staff clearing mounts of body bags from the streets in the quiet morning light doesn't have to be shaky. It would be just as horrific if it were framed properly since it is the content of the shot that's horrific. That's another thing: content. Rhythm between the shots is important, sure, but the content within the shot is also important. That's how you make a truly good horror movie: by showing as well as not showing, which is something Mr. Fresnadillo failed to understand. Nonetheless, he makes some quite interesting things with the POV shot, especially when using amplifiers such as the sniper scope (in two exciting sequences: the extermination scene shot from the rooftops, and the subway scene shot using night vision).

Despite an "international" finale, the film also lacks the scale of the original, which in turns makes the plot less epic and the art direction less interesting. This is no longer a story of survival and social organization in the face of doom, but a simple family drama (with large implications, sure, but a family drama nonetheless). The sense of wonder you might get from seeing the world suddenly destroyed is replaced by an annoying appraisal of a militarized society. The epic scenes of death and destruction, which made the original film standout, are also scarse in this second opus. The CGI firebombing of the Isle of Dogs has nothing on the simplest set-piece of the original. Because walking through the empty streets of London is truly a unique experience while witnessing the ample bang-bangs and bla-blas of Hollywood cinema is nothing new. On the gore front, I reckon the hounds will be very pleased, thanks to ample blood vomiting, exploding heads, punctured eyes and one hell of an helicopter blades massacre.

2/5: for being an effective film by popular standards, but actually a vomit-inducing mess that will have old-schoolers like me bleed from their eyes.