When your $8 million movie grosses more than ten times that amount across the globe, the topic of "sequels" is going to come up. Such was the case surrounding Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, a freakishly fun (and admirably harsh) piece of sci-fi horror from one of the planet's most consistently eclectic filmmakers. But while Mr. Boyle had other fish to fry, in a directorial sense, he and partners Andrew Macdonald (theproducer) and Alex Garland (the screenwriter) were not content to hand the series off to just anyone and rake in some easy residual checks.
They decided on which direction the sequel should go and then they enlisted a filmmaker with only one film under his belt (it's called "Intacto" and it's quite good) -- because they saw something in that one flick that they really liked. And (yes, I'm getting to the point) I'm of the opinion that they made the right choice because Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later, while not quite as fresh, moving, or ice-water invigorating as its predecessor, is a damn worthy follow-up to an unexpectedly excellent chiller.
Fans of the original who walk into the sequel hoping for a "next day" sort of chapter might be disappointed at the outset, but those folks will certainly be patient enough to discover what Weeks has to offer: a pounding pace that keeps the action and the mayhem flowing smoothly, while finding small pockets of "down time" so we can catch our breath. Once the premise is set up and the rules are laid down, 28 Weeks Later moves like a gore-strewn rocket, plummeting the fans through an impressive collection of hardcore attacks, chases, escapes and kills. Yeah, a whole lot of kills, several of which come right out of nowhere and leave you wondering ... did they just kill off THAT character? Whoa.
As the title implies, 28 Weeks Later picks up seven months after the initial outbreak so gruesomely depicted in Boyle's film. The U.S. military has stepped in to help re-populate a small section of London, and to say that security is tight would be kind of an understatement. (Although security is surprisingly lax during one key scene; it's one of the flick's small-but-nagging plot holes.) Robert Carlyle plays a high-end maintenance man who's enjoying a long overdue reunion with his pre-teen son and daughter -- and is desperately trying to forget how he left his poor wife screaming in terror as throngs of "the infected" overtook her. (He wussed out is what he did, basically.) But a few plot developments arrive early on, none of which I'll spoil here, and let's just say the "rage virus" is back in full force. And it's just as contagious, gruesome and sticky as ever.
The last half of 28 Weeks Later is little more than run, jump, bite, chase, scream, bleed. (Oh and there's a scene with a helicopter you just won't believe.) If the movie lacks a real "rooting interest" and if the character development could best be described as "skimpy," the director makes up for those shortcomings by delivering a deserted London landscape that's as chilling as it is fascinating. (Plus, just as in Boyle's film, many of the non-violent moments are strangely beautiful to behold. At the very least, it's a look at London you've never seen before.) The cast is quite strong, even if you don't get much face time with any of the actors: Robert Carlyle is quite good as the guilt-ridden dad, Jeremy Renner plays an instantly likable and reluctantly heroic sniper, Harold Perrineau does what he can from the inside of a helicopter. Even the kids (Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots) are good!
So to answer the most obvious question: No, the sequel is not better than the original. But really, did anyone out there expect it to be? No, the best we could realistically hope for was a follow-up that would do the original proud and perhaps stand up on its own two feet. 28 Weeks Later does both of those things surprisingly, nastily well. I know some people will gripe about the "shaky cam" approach, but that's just part of the series DNA by this point. Plus I happen to think a little chaos goes a long way in a movie like this. Not without its faults, 28 Weeks Later is simply a harsh, dark and refreshingly fast-moving little piece of apocalyptic horror. I gave the original a 5 out of 5, because I think it's borderline brilliant. This sequel's a solid 4 right on the nose ... which is certainly good enough for this horror geek.