28 Weeks Later is horrific, gross, and intense from beginning to end. It’s also depressing as hell. The sequel to the 2002 British hit 28 Days Later borrows its dark tone from Danny Boyle’s apocalyptic nightmare and adds another coat of bleak. The focus is no longer on the survivors of a viral epidemic that turned England into a zombie factory; rather, director and co-writer Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is subtly but unmistakably more interested in the carnage. Sure, we have protagonists to root for, this time a small family and some conscientious military personnel. But who really cares about them when there’s nonstop bloodletting to get to?
As the title explains, 28 Weeks Later takes place about six months after the original film ends. The infected—who instantly turn into ravenous, blood-puking maniacs after being exposed to the “Rage” virus—are believed to have all starved to death, and a United States-led NATO force has been brought in to begin reconstruction. Slowly, carefully screened people are brought back into London and set up in a small section of the city that’s been declared safe. It’s here that handyman Don (Robert Carlyle) reunites with his children, 12-year-old Andy (newcomer Mackintosh Muggleton) and his older sister, Tammy (the striking Imogen Poots), who were in a Spanish refugee camp during the outbreak. As for their mother (Catherine McCormack), well, Don sort of left her for dead when the house the couple holed up in was attacked.
Don tries to keep his children close by explaining what the “Rage” days were like, but kids being kids, they run off outside the safe zone to visit their home and grab pictures of Mum. Imagine their surprise when they discover their Kodak moments haven’t necessarily come to an end—their mother’s there, hiding, shocked but still alive. It’s not long, however, before the virus sneaks back into the quarantine, the soldiers declare Code “Shoot Everything That Moves” Red, and the siblings are suddenly so precious that people could just gobble them up.
As anyone who’s seen the original knows, this franchise, like the and Saws of the New Horror trend, is not about camp. One-liners and goofy slow-moving members of the old-school undead are absent, replaced by talk of hopelessness and monsters that seem to need a good exorcism more than a fresh supply of brains. There’s even a lame attempt at political commentary if you choose to look for it: “They’re shooting everyone!” says a citizen about the military. “This makes no sense!”
Those who’d rather ignore allusions to Iraq will also probably let slide the bits of stupidity—though few are as glaring as in your typical American horror flick—that allow the plot to proceed as it does. Fresnadillo isn’t exactly the new king of fright: He relies too heavily on a shaky camera that results in several confusingly chaotic sequences and on whipping out the loud, cheap scare from the Hack’s Bag of Tricks. But his gift for creating atmosphere is undeniable: Besides the gallons of gore, there are several aerial shots of London, freakily deserted and dark; terrific action (when you can actually focus) such as the firebombing of the city and a helicopter-tuned-Cuisinart; and, more remarkably, lots and lots of quiet. The few people who remain are wordless, the excellent score (by John Murphy) is used sparingly—in contrast to the mania, the effect is unsettling. There’s no fanboy glee in this gruesomeness. You’ll jump, squirm, and grip your armrest, but mostly 28 Weeks Later will leave you with a lingering sense of unease.