Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2007 9:14 pm 
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Location: California/NYC
Also published on Cinescene.

Wise and weird and scary

In 28 Weeks Later Danny Boyle and Alex Garland have stepped back and produced, consigning the sequel-making task to a Spaniard, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, of the "wildly precocious" 2001 "cerebral occult thriller" Intacto. With his several co-authors, Fresnadillo has turned away from 28 Days Later's sci-fi (though there's still a hopeless apocalyptic vision; but is that sci-fi any more?) to moral and political levels of blunt allegory, while still playing with the fate of an England besieged by the high-energy Rage zombie virus. Perhaps a hyper-kinetic zombie is a bit of an oxymoron; one remembers the good joke of Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead that the north of England chaps wandering the streets of his film are so downbeat and sluggish zombies pass among them unnoticed. But the Rage virus is a thing for our times. These new zombies burn themselves out in an infectious fit of techno-mad impatience, A.D.D.'ed to the nth degree.

There were always betrayals within a family under zombie attack, and anybody who crosses over is a double-crosser, but what about a husband and father in a big house outside London under zombie attack who simply loses it and runs off to save himself, leaving his equally terrified wife Alice (Catherine McCormack) behind? Robert Carlyle, who has played Hitler since his stint as Daffy in The Beach and who has a perpetually pained expression, has the role of this coward dad, Don. His young son and daughter, Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (Imogen Poots), miraculously survive. But you'll never trust your mother or father again, and Andy and Tammy's parents combine physical and moral infection. In this highly suggestive story line, the sickness that infects the family and the corruption of the state are of a piece.

The infection of the personal level continues with a medical officer in charge, US Maj. Scarlet (Rose Byrne), who wants to save these siblings not because they're rather sweet but because she believes they may have a rare gene resistant to the Rage virus.

The political, which is to say military, level of 28 Weeks is much more complicated and makes less sense till you hear one thing: the separated-off center of London -- guarded and controlled by the American military -- is called The Green Zone.

Thus the 28-week declaration that England is "free of infection" matches the idiocy and folly of George W. Bush's premature declaration of "Mission Accomplished." Why are Tammy and Andy, the only children allowed back in the country after lifting quarantine, able to sneak out at evening when the Zone is locked down, grab keys from a corpse in a pizza shop and ride a delivery motorcycle out to their old house? The same reason why everything was allowed to go haywire and looters had free reign after the US invaded Baghdad: S.N.A.F.U. Who's in charge? Nobody thinking with his head. Green Zone indeed.

Once there is re-infection, the black C.O. doesn't want to protect the siblings with the rare genes. That would be thinking too far ahead. Genes, smenes: everybody goes down. So, now that a new infection has appeared (always within this little family; the neat story construction requires no more), the snipers are called out. What's the point of shooting everybody in sight down there? Because it's a Red Alert: enough said. It's the rainbow sign. No more water: the fire next time. Why shoot everybody, friendlies and bad guys alike? Because the C.O. says so. S.O.P.= S.N.A.F.U. The only thing that's missing from this movie are Shiites and Sunnis and Blackwater.

Why fire-bomb the whole area when that won't work because people/monsters can still get out of the Green Zone? Same reason, every time.

This film has its share of fresh effects, including the sight of masses of fleeing people being enveloped with shooting flame. Hey presto: firestorm, as the late Kurt Vonnegut put it. Fresnadillo & Co. handle their tasks with relish and panache, and in the process evoke Dresden and Tokyo and, with its hovering helicopter, Mogadiscio and Black Hawk Down.There is a conventional good-guy Delta sniper Doyle (Jeremy Renner), who's human enough to abandon his post and help the innocent, and he gets torched for his trouble. That kind of outcome, as well as the few swaying hulks, is a lingering tribute to Romero. But the manic kinetic energy of those possessed with the Rage virus is at such a high pitch this time those old fashioned shots of backyards full of looming, lurching zombie hulks are no longer to be seen (go back to Shaun of the Dead for a good one). Instead, 28 Weeks, as Nathan Lee comments in his admiring review, is great at balancing high and low, public and intimate, aerial shots with bloody in-your-face slam-bang close-ups. The sequence where Maj. Scarlet guides Tammy and Andy down through a big darkened Tube station knee-deep in infected corpses using an automatic weapon's night scope is wonderfully ghoulish and icky.

28 Weeks Later makes a metaphorical virtue of every conventional narrative fault. Nothing makes sense? That's because the solution to the re-infection of Tony Blair's constituency is under the control of the American military he kowtowed to. The "solution" just makes everything worse and worse? What did you expect?

Don't listen to any naysayers: this is a good one.

(Great online comments on the film: those of cool-guy reviewers Walter Chaw at Film Freak Central and Nathan Lee in The Voice. Note Chaw's tribute to Joe Carnahan's first film: "Fresnadillo adopts the handheld ethic of Boyle's picture and injects it with the energy of the vertiginous opening moments of Narc." Right on.)

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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