The opening sequence of the film 28 Weeks Later culminates in a character running for his life, repeating, "Oh expletive, oh expletive, oh expletive". I found myself chanting this right along with him, and at three or four other points during the movie. To tell you more about these moments would rob you of your own freak-out.
The film is a sequel, but it's not necessary to have seen 28 Days Later. Spanish writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, taking over from Danny Boyle, knows exactly how to hit you in the soft spot: the fragility of our ordered world. Like Spielberg's War of the Worlds, Weeks relentlessly saws our modern anxieties like a screeching violin.
Seven months ago, a plague emptied London. It was transmitted by blood and saliva; and within seconds, the infected host's brain would boil and he would rage, running down, biting, and tearing at anyone nearby, spreading the infection like wildfire.
Now, after a quarantine of London, after all the infected have starved to death, NATO and its largely U.S. Army forces are attempting a tentative repatriation. The Isle of Dogs becomes a Green Zone, and 15,000 refugees are shipped in. Computer graphic cityscapes provide a sense of scale, but they don't look very convincing. Later, however, when two children explore an eerie, empty London at street level, the images of a fallen civilization are handled with resourcefulness and grim realism.
Those children are ten-year-old Andy (Mackintosh Muggleman) and teenager Tammy (Scarlett Johnannson ringer Imogen Poots), shipped from a camp in Spain and reunited with their father, Don (Robert Carlisle). Don is a maintenance chief in possession of an electronic card that will open almost any door on the island. If you think you know where that plot strand is going, you can forget it.
Like last year's The Descent, 28 Weeks Later successfully employs claustrophobia, silence, and darkness. There is also an insistent electric guitar score, by John Murphy, that's critical to the film's effect. The cinematographer, Enrique Chediak, uses narrow shutter angles to make the images jerk and stutter a creative limitation, because the budget wasn't there to show an infected crowd in great detail. That technique is nowhere near as elegant as the blocking of John Romero's zombie movies; it works, in a grinding way, but it can't take the film all the way to Dawn of the Dead territory.
Above all, the film grips you with its logic. The Army behaves exactly as you would expect, from individual soldiers coping with the situation to the decisions of commanders as they struggle to keep the lid on. Crowd dynamics are so right, you feel your own panic seeping up from your toes to your chest. A logical fallacy would provide an avenue for release, but there are precious few flaws to find. And what troubles the most is not just the plausibility of a pandemic wiping us out, but the possibility that, when order cracks and panic strikes, you, too, might climb right on top of others to survive.
This and other theater and music reviews can be read, listened to, or podcast at wfiu.org. Reviewing movies for WFIU, this is Peter Noble-Kuchera.