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28 Weeks Later

Love’em or hate’em, as movie fans we’ve all got to deal with the sequel-itis that has permeated our culture. That’s not to say the concept of the sequel is a new idea, it’s just these days it seems like every other movie being released is a sequel (or a remake, I must give unoriginality its due). It’s not that I’m a detractor of a series of films, because I believe the second entries of both the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises to be superior to the originals. I’m just very demanding of sequels, especially if I’m fond of the initial work, because for every success like Aliens, we get ten failures as equally horrific as Batman and Robin or Caddyshack II. In terms of these demands, the most important aspect is continuity. It’s absolutely unforgivable for a sequel to betray its source material, or in the case of 28 Weeks Later, its source characters. Maybe it’s because I didn’t do my research and wasn’t aware beforehand, but I spent the first half of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s film wondering what in the world of virally inflicted Britain happened to Cillian Murphy’s Jim. He was still alive at the conclusion of 28 Days Later (alternate endings not withstanding), and since it’s a film that actually cares about developing its characters, I think it’s reasonable to expect any type of sequel to be a continuation of Jim’s struggle against isolation and the infected.

However, instead of logically picking up where his predecessor left off, Fresnadillo stabs Jim in the back and opens with a fresh storyline that begins, you guessed it, twenty-eight weeks after the virus’s initial outbreak. Putting aside that Murphy is one of the stronger aspects of Days, I still can’t accept the blatant disparity and total disregard for narrative extension of Weeks. Regardless of the issues surrounding Murphy’s absence from the cast, it doesn’t change the fact that the film was in my proverbial doghouse before it was even ten minutes old.

Ironically, the opening sequence of 28 Weeks Later is one of the best overall scenes from either film; an intense and frantically terrifying speedball of events that perfectly fuses with the character’s rampant emotions and eventually introduces us to Don Harris (Robert Carlyle). It’s an impressive introduction that creates an effectively real atmosphere, and one that should’ve provided a solid foundation for a decent film; but ultimately, the rest of Weeks falls remarkably flat and fails to live up to its initial standards.

After Don narrowly escapes a hoard of infected, selfishly leaving his wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) for dead, we fast forward six months to a reconstructed and infection-free zone of London, to which his kids Tammy (Imogen Poots) and Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) are returning. Fortunately, they’d been abroad during the initial outbreak, and now arrive as the youngest people in Britain. Upon discovering their mother is dead, they take a day trip outside of containment to retrieve pictures of her, and in the process unleash all hell on Britain all over again.

As the plot starts to unfold, it quickly becomes evident that rather than the character development, thematic analysis and carefully selected thrills that propel the original, 28 Weeks Later is largely dependant on bold scares and in your face action. There’s very little substance to Fresnadillo’s film, which further underscores its disconnection from Boyle’s commentary on societal decay and human nature. Instead, we’re left with a poor script, shaky direction, and a cast that appears to have been selected based on the outrageousness of their names. Okay, it’s technically just the two child-stars, but if you look at the two names and match them with their pedestrian performances, it’s not that much of a stretch.

I know I’m essentially reviewing Weeks by comparing it to Days, and while that may seem unfair, I think it’s absolutely vital when analyzing sequels. If a sequel abandons the intent, style and ultimate goals of the original, then it has failed. It’s in this way that 28 Weeks Later suffers greatly by becoming a pawn in the grand scheme to migrate the rage virus around the globe, which will undoubtedly spawn multiple sequels of inevitably decreasing quality. And the sad part is – mission accomplished. The first thing to say about the rest of the 28 Weeks Later disc is that I enjoyed it much more than the film. The best decision Fresnadillo makes is carrying over John Murphy’s incredible instrumental track “In the House – In a Heartbeat”, which is certainly one of the more distinguishable aspects of Days. Fresnadillo uses the music to perfection, and overall, the sound quality of the film is top notch.

It’s very easy to tell how much effort was put into a special features section, and if we’re going purely on quantity, the Weeks disc passes with flying colors. There’s a full commentary with Fresnadillo and writer/producer Enrique Lopez Lavigne, two deleted scenes also with commentary, a making of feature, a mini-special focusing on the infected and last but not least, a small piece titled “Getting Into the Action.” Not bad at all, especially for an initial single-disc DVD release.

Despite my opinion of the film, the commentary at least provides the insights of a director who clearly tried to make a successful sequel. But then again, what else is he going to say? Nonetheless I actually liked a lot of his discussion and it’s definitely worth a look, if only to see the shortcomings of a young director. Interestingly enough, during the first ten minutes he talks at length about Danny Boyle lending a helping hand to film the initial sequences. Coincidence? I think not.

The deleted scenes, while essentially throw-aways, exemplify a genuine aspiration to put forth a decent product and when viewed with the commentary, they provide an up-close perspective of the cutting room floor. “Code Red: The Making of 28 Weeks Later” is a fifteen minute peek at the production of the film and I must say, it’s an enjoyable watch which it made me wish that I actually enjoyed the movie. There’s just an air of likeability to the cast and crew that had me feeling sorry for bashing their movie. Needless to say, it doesn't have a lasting affect.

At only seven minutes, “The Infected” really is a mini-feature, but it’s definitely the coolest part of the whole disc. It makes you realize that while watching these films, you totally dismiss the people playing the infected, when in actuality their job is quite difficult. From their bloody make-up to their choreographed movements, “The Infected” offers an intense look at the preparation and dedication that goes into making the rage virus a reality.

The only feature that I didn’t like is “Getting Into the Action”, because it’s simply seven minutes of the cast advertising the action of their film. Yea, I already know it’s severely dependent on action – that’s one of the main reasons I don’t like it. But if you’re an action junkie, I suppose it’s enough of an adrenaline rush to be worthwhile.

In the end, I’m not sure about my recommendation. I bought 28 Days Later in a heartbeat, but I will not be making the same purchase of 28 Weeks Later. However, if you don’t think the lack of continuity, substance and true suspense will bother you, then I’d say go for it because you’ll surely enjoy the rest of the disc as well. If you’re like me though, an extended rental should suffice.