Tuesday, March 03, 2009

28 Weeks Later

28 Weeks Later is an extremely paranoid 2007 British film, made as a zombie movie, but also a parable about a pandemic and what happens when a population gets sick and infectious. These are things we'd rather not think about, so 28 Weeks Later--just as star Robert Carlyle does to his wife in the movie--gives us two thumbs in the eyeballs.

What's the scariest thing that can happen to kids? To lose their family, to be on their own, unprotected. In this drama the rage virus that infected London in the predecessor to this film, 28 Days Later, has been eradicated. A green zone, a containment district, has been set up for survivors by the U.S. Army, which is in charge after the collapse of the British government. The rage virus comes from contact, and turns people into instant homicidal maniacs who move fast and hit their random victims hard. Two children, Tammy and Andy, have survived, and are reunited with their dad, Don, played by the great Robert Carlyle. Dad hides the secret that he ran to save his own skin, leaving his wife to infected attackers.

The children miss their mother, and escape from the containment zone to go home, where they find her, a survivor. As we learn, Mum is a carrier of the rage virus, but for some genetic reason doesn't have the disease. Unfortunately--and here's where the real problems begin--she infects her husband, which starts a chain of events that spiral quickly out of control. The rage virus is back, and the only thing to do is eliminate everyone, infected or not, to keep it from getting away from the zone.

Every few years we get a scare about a flu epidemic, like the 1918-19 worldwide epidemic that killed millions. Epidemiologists say it's inevitable we'll have another catastrophic flu epidemic, but it's going on a century and it hasn't yet happened. AIDS popped up and caused a major public scare, but unlike the rage virus of the movie which comes on its victims instantly, AIDS takes up to 10 years to develop from a virus. We're not immune from public health problems (remember SARS in 2003? Remember (shudder) Ebola?) and 28 Weeks Later does a really good job of encapsulating those fears of a disease that runs rampant, for which there is no cure, killing everyone in its path.

The movie doesn't forget it's a movie, though, and operates as a story with beginning, middle and end. The kids, Tammy and Andy, remain the constants while around them the adults who are protecting them change. The dad and mum are replaced by two American soldiers, a sniper who doesn't want to kill innocent civilians, and a female officer/doctor, who wants to preserve the kids because of their genetic traits against the disease. I can't say enough about the performances and the acting, which is superb. Robert Carlyle is always great, but Jeremy Renner as the Army sergeant/sniper and Rose Byrne as Scarlet, the Army doctor, are believable and fit into a category of noble characters I'd call the self-sacrificers. They give up their own lives so that others can live. If I'm ever being pursued by murderous zombies I want Sergeant Doyle and his sniper rifle at my back.

But 28 Weeks Later was sold as a horror movie, a take on the zombie movies of George Romero which have been done and re-done over the past 40 years. 28 Weeks has its blood and gore moments. Zombies have become a whole genre of horror, like vampires or werewolves. Where 28 Weeks Later separates itself from the pack of zombie flicks, is in its respect for the brains of its audience. It's more than just a horror movie: it shows us how quickly society and civilization can fall apart during a crisis, and that we are all just barely this side of anarchy and the complete collapse of society.

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