FILM REVIEW: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s ’28 Weeks Later’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “28 Weeks Later”, a sequel to Danny Boyle’s admired zombie chiller “28 Days Later”, is a ferociously entertaining thriller with sympathetic characters, stunning set pieces and pulsating excitement.

Boyle and Alex Garland, who wrote the first film, are executive producers of the new film, which ups the ante on the story of Great Britain’s population almost completely wiped out by a virus that induces instant rage in humans with an almost unstoppable impulse to kill. It should prove explosively infectious at the box office.

Six months after being declared safe from infection, Britain is repopulated with evacuees and those lucky enough to have been away at the time of the outbreak. Joined by pockets of survivors, they are housed in high-rises on the Isle of Dogs in the east end of London. The place is a heavily guarded fortress with constant surveillance by the U.S. military, whose snipers spy on the inhabitants as much as potential invaders.

The remainder of London and the rest of the country are empty of people but security is maintained at the highest level because of the instant and deadly fury unleashed by the virus. Inevitably, however, the security is breached, and when it does the inmates are at risk as much from their military masters as from the infection.

Robert Carlyle stars as Don, a man whose children, Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), were on holiday when the outbreak occurred. He has a guilty secret, as the film’s opening sequence shows him and wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) with some other survivors in a remote country house attacked by hordes of the infected. Don manages to escape but leaves his wife to her fate.

When Alice shows up surprisingly, medical officer Scarlet (Rose Byrne) discovers that she has a gene that protects her from the virus, and son Andy has the gene, too. When unflinching Gen. Stone (Idris Elba) escalates security to Code Red, Scarlet and Special Forces Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) risk their lives in order to get Andy and Tammy to safety.

Fresnadillo, whose debut film “Intacto” attracted the attention of Boyle and Garland, was responsible for the screenplay along with Rowan Joffe (“Gas Attack”, “Last Resort”) and one of the film’s producers, Enrique Lopez Lavigne. It expands the logic of the first film in adventurous ways even if it does give in to the genre’s tradition of allowing characters to show up in the most unlikely places.

In Mark Tildesley’s production design, London’s devastation looks impossibly handsome, with exhilarating work from cinematographer Enrique Chediak and editor Chris Gill. John Murphy’s vibrantly electric score adds to the spine-tingling narrative pace.

Carlyle and McCormack handle their changing characters with great flair, and there are sterling contributions from Byrne, Renner, Elba  and Harold Perrineau as a helpful helicopter pilot. Poots and Muggleton are the rarest of young performers in being both credible and appealing while some very nasty things are going on around them.

For once, there is a happy absence of misogyny in a horror movie, though the body count is high as a result of Fresnadillo’s expert technique and imaginative eye for carnage. The frenetic pace allows him to make his points vividly without dwelling on the horror so that the film speeds along to its shattering climax and cautionary coda.

Released: UK May 11 2007 (20th Century Fox), US May 11 (Fox Searchlight); Cast: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots, Idris Elba; Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo; Writers: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Jesus Olmo; Director of photography: Enrique Chediak;

Production designer: Mark Tildesley; Music: John Murphy; Costume designer: Jane Petrie; Editor: Chris Gill; Producers: Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich; Executive producers: Danny Boyle, Alex Garland; Production: Fox Atomic, DNA Films; Rating: UK:18, US: R; running time: 100 minutes.

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