OK, I understand. I've been away a while and come back with what, another pseudo-zombie film with infected non-dead humans masquerading as the recently deceased; another film that really wants to be a zombie film but isn't quite brave enough to take the next step and actually have the enemy die before coming back as bloodthirsty ravenous killing machines. Well, yes and I'm actually pretty unapologetic for it.
As in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later the infected are just that. There’s no biting, dying and resurrection, here 20 seconds after the rage virus is transferred either through blood or saliva that’s it, the victim is done for and is now looking quite aggressively to repeat the process. But we've been here before and just because the protagonists aren't dead doesn't in my opinion, necessitate the films absence from a zombie blog. I'm not prejudice against the not-dead; they may still be vulnerable like humans to starvation, injury and bullets (to anywhere) but they’re still crazed bloodthirsty monsters, they swarm in packs, they relentless and unremitting in their search victims and for all extents and purposes they certainly look the part. 28 weeks later is as post-apocalyptic as you can get and the fact they've done something a little different with Romero’s shambling undead is to directors Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s credit.
Anyway, a brutal opening sequence returns us to the UK and to an isolated rural farm house where Donald (Robert Carlyle) and his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) are holed up surviving as best they can after being taken in with several others by the older owners of the property. We learn their children were out of the country when the outbreak hit and also ten seconds after a young boy knocks on the door seeking refuge, that the outbreak is far from over as their sanctuary is stormed and all except ‘Don’ who is forced to abandon Alice to save his own skin are brutally slaughtered..
Cue 28 weeks later. The infection had burnt itself out, all the infected have died of hunger and a US lead NATO force has taken control of the financial district of London and has begun the process of rebuilding the UK. Flying in to the city to be reunited with their father Don who managed to not only survive the siege of the farm but made his way to a military patrol, 17 year old Tammy (Imogen Poots) and her younger brother Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) raises concerns with chief medical officer Scarlet (Rose Byrne) who is worried everyone is moving too fast when so much about the Rage virus is still unknown.
Seeing the city being slowly cleaned up the two little rascals take it on themselves to sneak outside the military cordon and return to their old family home which happens to be conveniently nearby. Here they find their mum who Don had left for dead hiding out and having been spotted escaping the lot are picked up and taken back to the enclave. During Alice’s appraisal Scarlet not only discovers that Alice is a carrier for the still very much alive rage virus but she somehow has a natural resistance.
Discovering his wife is still alive Don who works a maintenance officer for the facility in the single biggest Darwin-award moment I think I've yet to see in zombie film so far, uses his all-access pass to gain access to her in quarantine and manages to transfer the rage virus to himself.
We learnt in 28 Days Later that the virus turned people into single minded animalistic killing machines; driven by insatiable hunger for human flesh and divorced from the person they used to be. Here the ideas are further explored. The virus is called rage because that is what it does to the victim; it forces them into a perpetual state of total unadulterated fury and we’re granted the full force of this transformation as we witness Don within seconds turn from doting husband and father into a homicidal rage consumed monster that turns on Alice sadistically beating and mutilating her. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde moment played brilliantly by Carlyle and it’s both shocking and fascinating.
As we’d expect things don’t stop here and soon Don has managed to spread the virus until things are totally out of control, people are being ripped apart left right and centre and the military brass are have called code red meaning everyone is to be exterminated and the base is lost. In this maelstrom Don, fuelled by the guilt he perversely blames his wife and children for making him feel, sets out to kill them too. It’s clever and it’s dark; he blames them for making him feel guilty and for killing his wife and it totally consumes him; later when he manages to confront them there’s no moment of redemption fleeting moment where we still see his humanity behind the mask.
Now I'm not a military expect but I've watched enough of these films to be left wondering yet again, at how conveniently the virus is able to escape a safe secure quarantine. Whilst I can almost overlook most of it as the film did suffer from a limited budget, I was left with just a few too many questions for me to walk away totally satisfied from the experience. For all the potential danger, Don gets his way into and out of Alice’s quarantine just that bit too easily and with all hell breaking loose around he also manages to make his way, for a mindless rage fuelled killer, unscathed to all the right narrative junctions at just the right times. I understand it drives the story and makes for a tense complete experience but it’s just a little easy and lazy.
I really enjoyed Carlos Fresnadillo’s take of the post-apocalyptic pseudo-zombie genre. The film successfully plays homage to the first film and shares much of its look and feel, whilst also bringing something fresh and original. Whilst I did find some of the story decisions a little too convenient it mostly holds together as a plausible authentic experience with solid cohesive narrative running from beginning to end. The action and tension are extremely well presented and the extensive choreography ensuring the hundreds of infected extras moved and behaved in unison pays dividends with some of the most stylish and iconographic zombie scenes captured on film. In many respects I preferred this to the original where I was deeply disappointed with the second half. Here it never feels there’s two distinct films; just one distinctive vision pushing to tell a unique and bleak personal story. A brilliant post apocalyptic infected non-zombie film for the zombie fan, but not without a few problems, 7/10.