When a movie as successful as 28 Days Later comes out, a continuation is as necessary as it is inevitable. With the principles busy on other projects and director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland busy with Sunshine, it’s not entirely surprising that the sequel would focus on new characters and a slightly different timeline, and thus 28 Weeks Later was born.
It’s roughly seven months after the initial infection and England is largely free of infection, thanks to the propensity for the virus-laden to die from starvation. A US-led NATO force is attempting to reintegrate the country, but they’re only just about to become aware of the fact that the disease has a previously unheard of quirk; certain people with genetic immunity now present as asymptomatic carriers, providing the possibility of a vaccine or possibly even a cure. However, the asymptomatic carrier discovered has an infectable spouse who is wracked with grief over leaving her behind, and thus the virus is given a chance to present itself to a massive population once again.
28 Weeks Later doesn’t quite compare to the leap from Night of the Living Dead to Dawn of the Dead. An analogy I’m fond of sees 28 Days Later compared to Alien in terms of its fresh take on the horror genre and unfaltering critical and commercial success, while 28 Weeks Later shares much more in common with Aliens; both are sequels released several years after their predecessors and both change out moody horror and characterization with scenes of expansive action. Unfortunately, if held to this standard, 28 Weeks Later fails to come across with the same verve as its spiritual antecedent.
Take, for example, the introduction of asymptomatic carriers; it’s a brilliant addition to the first film’s mythos, but it’s hardly integrated as successfully as it could be. Instead, it’s more of a device to drive the plot forward by giving a few of the central characters a necessity for protection. It doesn’t say anything salient about the virus and falls far short of any thematic importance.
Similarly, a lot of the characters come across as archetypes, regardless of how well they are played. Jeremy Renner’s Sgt. Doyle, arguably a spiritual predecessor to his role in The Hurt Locker, is a bastion of morality, as is Rose Byrne’s Dr. Levy, while Idris Elba’s Gen. Stone provides the Nuremberg-style hard-ass military commander. The most interesting is Robert Carlyle’s Don, a karmically avenged coward.
Unfortunately no one, particularly the potentially asymptomatic children of the aforementioned carrier, is given anything interesting to do in 28 Weeks Later. Their fight for survival isn’t given any real context other than a trek through abandoned London in an attempt to stave off death for as long as possible. Yes, there is potential for the children to have an impact on the future of the Rage virus, but they don’t really confront the emotional impact of this power, nor do they adequately tackle the reality of both their parents falling victim to the disease. It would be nice for them to have a moment where they face up to the fact that they no longer have a place in the world with both their parents dead and a home country in ruin.
Though the action sequences are first-rate, particularly a helicopter mowing down scores of the infected and soldiers splattering everything moving after the outbreak, they feel more like set pieces than part of an organic whole. 28 Days Later ratcheted up the tension because writer Alex Garland made the audience take genuine interest in their protagonists such that something as simple as running up a flight of stairs in a tower block feels like a simulacrum of humanity’s struggle against the unknown.
However, as a moving part in a series that has the potential to stretch on years or even decades, 28 Weeks Later could improve if another installment comes around. As I mentioned before, the asymptomatic carriers are a fascinating addition to the storyline and could be incorporated in a future plot with spectacular results, something that would instantly elevate 28 Weeks Later to a higher strata of social or existential commentary. As it stands, though, 28 Weeks Later is merely the next chapter of perhaps the best horror film of the past twenty years. Fortunately, it’s both good enough to stand on its own and encourage a much-awaited continuation.
Fortunately, for those viewers looking to save a few pennies, both are available in blu-ray in a combined release on Amazon. Those wishing to avoid a combination as they look to swell their collection with a possible 28 Months Later will desire the more standard individual release, but with a troubled production history and Alex Garland seemingly in a rift with Danny Boyle, that may be a long way off.