Collins’ Crypt: In Defense Of 28 WEEKS LATER

BC prefers the "inferior" sequel, and isn't afraid to admit it.

I am not a guy to prefer a lot of sequels - Godfather 1 and Episode IV are the best of those series, not their immediate followups, and the Lord of the Rings series may have improved its grosses (and Oscar glory) as it went on, but for me it never got better than our introduction in Fellowship of the Ring. There are exceptions (Fast Five and the last couple X-Men movies), but they're fairly rare, and there are even fewer in the horror genre that I can say improved on their originals by adding a number. Not much of a surprise there; popular opinion is that Halloween's sequels only ruined the mystique, and you'd have to be insane to think any of the Exorcist sequels improved on Friedkin's original. Among the big franchises, Friday the 13th (2, 4, and 6) are preferred to the original in my house, and if you count them as sequels to one another than Dawn just barely surpasses Night as my favorite Romero Dead film. Otherwise, you won't find me defending too many sequels over their original.

One such exception gets me yelled at on occasion, however. That would be 28 Weeks Later, a much more satisfying movie to me than Danny Boyle's original 28 Days Later. I had no real problem with the first film beyond the hideous digital video (thanks for paving the way to RUIN CINEMA, Boyle!*); they cribbed a bit too much from Romero's films for my liking (that grocery store scene in particular was lifted right out of Dawn, and the finale is basically Day of the Dead's but above ground instead of below it) but that's almost a given in zombie movies** anyway, so you just sort of have to live with it at this point. I loved the opening and a few standalone sequences (the tunnel!) but it just never really pulled me in like my favorite zombie films did, and I rarely thought about it since. I revisited it a couple years ago for a Chiller special I was in, and my opinion didn't change much - perfectly decent way to kill some time and nothing more.

Weeks, however, speaks more to my sensibilities, and does so without hurting my eyes. For starters, as someone who has seen ( *checks Horror Movie A Day* ) 201+ zombie movies, I can speak with some authority that not nearly enough of them show a world that has the outbreak contained and on its way out. Sure, we know all hell will break loose again, but for the first act it's kind of fascinating to see how this process might work in reality - clearing areas, sending survivors into new homes there while the cleanup process continues in the next zone, etc. It's also kind of heartbreaking to see how quickly it all comes undone - one infected person gets into the city and within minutes of the first transfer it's back to the total chaos that they spent the last few months repairing. These scenes (and the similar ones in the original) are what benefits most from the concept of the "rage" virus; I prefer slow zombies myself, but there's something quite terrifying about seeing a room full of perfectly fine people become a drooling mob within seconds, as the infected make more infected en masse. Regular zombie movies always have hundreds of anonymous zombies walking around - it's rare you actually get to SEE such a mob getting formed.

Another thing that I appreciated about Weeks' approach is that there weren't any typical evil humans. Days mighta won me over if it didn't resort to the same "the bigger threat is your fellow man!" elements that made up the bulk of the 3rd act, complete with an attempted gang-rape. "That's what would happen!" its defenders will say, because they are experts on what the human mind will think about when confronted with monsters. Personally, I'm much more interested in seeing what we did at the beginning of this film - makeshift "families" holing up, trying to have a normal day to day existence, and making tough choices when confronted with certain death. I've seen a million assholes taking advantage of the situation and turning on his fellow humans in these things, but it's not too often you see a moment like Robert Carlyle realizing he can escape if he shuts a door with his wife on the other side of it. A coward's move, sure, but there are two things to consider. One - going to protect her would have likely resulted in both of their deaths anyway, as the infected had already made quick work of just about everyone else in the house (again, this is where the fast > slow argument has some merit - there's precious little chance of escape, especially in an enclosed area). And two - a few moments later he does make efforts to save someone else when he's in a safer position to do so than he was before.  So he's not a one-dimensional evil dickhead like Christopher Eccleston's character in the first movie (which Carlyle turned down, incidentally), he just got scared and made the wrong call.

The same sort of thinking informs one of the sequel's more memorable setpieces, when the snipers (including pre-Hurt Locker Jeremy Renner) are ordered to stop taking out the infected that they see and just shoot everyone making their way toward their still uninfected safe zone. Again, this isn't the act of people who are being evil for the sake of being evil - there's a chaos that they're trying to control because for 4-5 months they've actually done just that. It's a lot easier to believe someone will order the deaths of some innocent people when they've seen that this is something that can be contained (if you recall, the virus never even escaped Britain's mainland, which has to be one of the smallest areas of outbreak in zombie movie history). The sequence unfortunately has no ending; Idris Elba (the one to make the call) disappears from the movie after giving the order - not sure if it was an editing decision or something that they wanted to save for a followup, but it's one of my few concerns with the movie that an important character vanishes from the narrative without explanation.

The other legit complaint its critics have is that the now-infected Carlyle has an uncanny ability to find his kids not once but twice in a chaotic city. Devin once compared his presence to the shark in Jaws: The Revenge, but you can also go with Jason Statham's villain in Furious 7 for a more recent example. Movie fans can buy this sort of coincidence maybe once, preferably in a climax that's already packed with "Oh shit" moments, keeping you on edge instead of thinking about the logic or lack thereof. But when he does it a couple of times - AS A ZOMBIE! - it's more than a bit silly. Maybe if the whole movie took place in their contained area, but with their journey taking them across mainland Britain, showing up near their final destination, several miles away from where they started, reeks of contrivance. Luckily, as far as I'm concerned the movie had built up enough goodwill with its other surprises (the mother's survival, the very satisfying helicopter massacre) to give it a pass on this one, but it wasn't so lucky with others.

At least, at the time. I distinctly recall being mocked for declaring it the better film back in 2007, with little support from friends, though perhaps time has been kind to it. I polled Twitter on what was the better movie and was surprised to see that Days' victory (which I knew it would secure) wasn't as lopsided as I expected - it was only by a single vote, and Weeks actually had a 2 point lead for a bit. The cast has mostly gone on to bigger things (Renner, Elba, Rose Byrne, Imogen Poots...), so that's probably helped its standing a bit, though I wish I could say the same for director/co-writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who was up for some big gigs that didn't pan out (the Conan remake that went to Marcus Nispel, the Bioshock movie that went nowhere at all) and ultimately made a followup with Intruders, a decent but very uneven thriller with Clive Owen that barely got released. It's nice that the film has found its following, but I can't help but think that the less-than-ideal initial response (it was a hit, though it grossed less than the much cheaper Days) didn't have Fresnadillo's phone ringing off the hook.

Rumors of a 3rd film have persisted since before this one was even released, and continue to surface every now and then. I'm game for one, particularly if they have the balls to continue tradition and not focus on returning characters (though in today's shared universe frenzy, I fear it'd involve Days and Weeks' survivors meeting up). Then again, with Weeks ending on the reveal that the virus has spread further (to Paris, at least), and an incomplete storyline involving a potential cure (in Weeks we learn that people with Heterochromia iridum (aka "Two eye colors") display no symptoms of the virus even when infected), I would expect some direct continuation, even with the ever-widening gap between Weeks and (the assumed title) 28 Months Later. With Walking Dead still going strong, I am surprised at the minimal number of big screen zombie movies we are given (the last wide release was World War Z - which was a gigantic hit to boot, making their absence from multiplexes even stranger), so there's definitely an itch that could be scratched.

But if another one never happens, at least the series ended on a high note. I hadn't seen it since 2007, but when I watched it the other night I was happy to find it was just as compelling as I remembered, and seeing people agree on Twitter was an even bigger relief. I don't expect everyone to like it more than the original, but if you wrote it off back then, give it another look. If nothing else, you get to see Hawkeye save Moira MacTaggert after Heimdall ordered him to kill her.

*Kidding. Sort of.

**Shut the fuck up. It's a zombie movie.