Every so often, a sequel comes along that is better than the original. Yes, I know, it's a rare event, but it does happen — just look at The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back and Terminator II: Judgment Day, to name but three. And now you can add to that list 28 Weeks Later, the ferociously brilliant follow-up to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later.
But it's not just a follow-up as such; Spanish writer/director Fresnadillo takes the ideas from the original and adds a whole fresh layer, moving the story in a different, far bleaker direction. It opens with a pre-credit sequence set during the initial plague. Married couple Don and Alice (Carlyle and McCormack) are holed up in house in the English countryside, along with a handful of other survivors. Their two children, Tammy and Andy (Poots and Muggleton), are on a school camping trip in Spain, safely away from the horror unfolding across the UK. The house is suddenly overrun with infected; Don gets away, leaving behind his wife, who he assumes is dead.
Jump forward six months. The Rage virus has run its course and been erradicated. Mainland Britain is virtualy devoid of human life — there's a small colony, under the tight control of the US Army, at London's Canary Wharf, which has been sealed off as a safe zone. As the refugees are brought back to London, Don is reunited with his children — and, soon after, the wife he's left for dead. Of course, not everything is as rosy as it seems. Thanks to a genetic mutation, Alice is immune to the Rage virus. But she's a carrier, and as you'd expect (thanks partly to the typical incompetence of the US Army) there's a fresh outbreak that spreads at lightening speed. And that's pretty much the plot in a nutshell. Mum's dead, Dad's a homicidal zombie and Rage is quickly taking over the remaining survivors, so with the help of a couple of soldiers (Byrne and Renner), Tammy and Andy head into deserted London. The plan is to hook up with helicopter pilot Flynn (Perrineau) in Regents Park and fly to the continent. But first they have to survive.
28 Weeks Later is one of the best horror films to come along in years. It's beautifully shot and edited, fast paced, well acted and, best of all, genuinely scary — a rare feat these days. There are some wonderful set pieces — the firebombing of Canary wharf, and a lovely scene (reminiscent of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead) with chopper pilot Flynn mowing through a mob of infected at Regents Park — along with topical political allegory (the US in Iraq) and a surprisingly downbeat ending. I can't wait to see 28 Months Later.
SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey * Following all too rapidly on from the overrated 28 Days Later comes 28 Weeks Later. It’s not so much a sequel, more a second chapter — a completely different set of characters facing a completely different set of problems. But it’s just as bad as the first. As the title suggests, it’s six months on from the first film; the Rage virus appears to have run its course and the UK’s quarantine has been lifted. Happily, the US Army are on hand to help the rebuilding process, and we all know how competent they are. Returning to the devastated mainland come Tammy and Andy, a brother and sister who’ve been out of the country on a school trip. The sort of strange school trip that sees 17 and 12 year olds travel together, but we’ll leave that jump of logic aside for a while because, believe me, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The kids return to Area One — the now-military-zone Docklands — to be reunited with their dad Don. The rest of the family, including mum Alice, have long been munched so it’s up to Don to hold his family together.
Despite orders to the contrary, Tammy and Andy decide to leave Area One and go back to their old house. This they manage to do so despite hundreds of guards with itchy fingers watching. But of course. They get home and find… Alice. Who, it transpires, is immune to the Rage virus. Because she would be, wouldn’t she? Alice has gone a little bit feral, a little bit mental and is not pleased that Don buggered off and left her to fend for herself. Don, guilt-ridden, decides he must see Alice. Alice, however, is now under armed guard: if she’s immune, her blood — and that of the kids — could be the key to an antidote. She’s the most important person in the country. So important, in fact, that when caretaker Don and his clumsily-introduced "access all areas" pass turns up, everyone has buggered off, leaving Alice strapped to a gurney. His "access all areas" pass — which should get him access to the urinal cakes and rubber gloves — miraculously opens an entire US military facility. Which explains a lot about Iraq, frankly. Anyway, Alice kisses him, her saliva’s infectious and he flies into a Rage-driven, er, rage. After slamming his head against the wall and splattering the viewing window with blood — for the audience’s benefit, the armed guards still haven’t made it back — he jumps on Alice, pummels her to death and then gouges her eyes out in perhaps the noisiest murder seen for years. And, of course, nobody notices because that would mean logic was interfering with the visuals and the tension. And logic was never 28 Days Later’s strongpoint either.
But it gets worse. Don goes on the rampage, slaughtering the guards — oh yes, they amble back in time to get bitten — and of course, they become infected too. Only some of them don’t. They’re just found on the floor bleeding. There’s mass panic. Rage is back, so the Army steps in to stop it spreading. After two moments of military brilliance — they lock everyone into the building where the Infected are and then turn off the lights so they can turn on the not-as-good emergency lights instead — they lose control, it’s every man for himself, and the kids find themselves trying to get away with the help of a rogue soldier Doyle and medical expert Scarlet. Happily, Doyle’s got a helicopter pilot mate, Flynn, who will fly them to the continent. If only they can get somewhere he can land. City Airport? Cabot Square? One of the rooftops where he’s spent the rest of the film hanging out in his cockpit? Any of the big open spaces in Docklands? Or — tell you what — how about you struggle across London on-foot, pursued by Rage-infected maniacs, and I’ll come and get you from Regent’s Park? How does that sound?
So, hiding out from the firebombing of Docklands, the crucial four get across the Millennium Bridge and wander in Hollywood fashion around London’s deserted landmarks: up Shaftesbury Avenue, turn right into Soho, then amble past the National Gallery. They stroll, the Rage-victims sprint, yet somehow they get to the Park first. Funny that. As for the Rage-victims, do you know how they survived the firebombing? They hid out in an alley. Er… The helicopter appears just as 60+ Rage-victims come over the horizon, and Flynn decides to use his rotors as a handy flying scythe and cuts through them in a scene that could revive the fortunes of the British cochineal industry. Of course he now declares it too dangerous to land (What? You’ve just minced them! Too dangerous? Too messy, maybe but dangerous?) so Flynn decides he better pick them up later. From the park? No. How about Wembley Stadium. Doyle mate, face up to it. Flynn doesn’t like you and wants you to die…
And that’s not even the worst of it but what’s the point? 28 Weeks Later is a logic-free mess. There’s excitement, there’s committed performances, there’s gore but logic? Not a single bleeding moment. By the time the four manage to outrun the chemical weapons that are now being used to clean-up London — in their handily found new Volvo Airtight — you should be giggling or, better, getting your coat. The first one was bad enough — watch it again, it’s awful, believe me — but this is worse. Much, much worse.