28 Weeks Later isn't so much a sequel in action as it is in spirit. It is literally 28 weeks after the breakout of the rage virus, and the population of mainland Britain has been wiped out and the country has been declared safe and an America led NATO force is responsible for repopulating the city of London. They've re-established water and power, have operating public transportation, and apparently even the taps are flowing at a local pub that has been re-opened. It's been declared good enough to allow 15,000 people to start repopulating the country, and that number is growing with every new arrival.
The problem is, this is a horror movie ... so you know something is going to go wrong. However, if everything went according to plan, then this story would be incredibly boring. As it is, something goes wrong. Very, very wrong. You know it'll all go wrong because in the opening sequence of the film, Catherine McCormack is apparently taken by the rage infected "zombies" as Robert Carlyle flees into the countryside. You know that when an accomplished and acclaimed actress is suddenly absent after the first few minutes, you're going to be seeing her again.
After the first 28 minutes we'd already seen, things veer way off course, and follow the misadventures of Carlye's kids Andy (played by the precocious Mackintosh Muggleton) and Tammy (played by the ethereal Imogen Poots) as they struggle with being two of the only kids in an empty city where they used to live. Areas that used to be teeming with life are now empty and devoid of anything. Like kids in any environment, they find themselves quickly bored, and go off exploring. Of course, this is why the chief medical officer Scarlet is so upset that they've started readmitting kids to London in the first place.
Needless to say, the actions of the two kids directly lead to a flareup of everyone's favorite rage virus. What, you thought it wouldn't return at all? Come on, you had to know that it'd resurface at some point. It's a bit like me telling you that you'll see Johnny Depp again in Pirates of the Caribbean 3. It's just bound to happen. The question is, how does a city struggling with it's rebirth deal with it? The answer is apparently very poorly. They were never really prepared for it to being with, and now that things have gone all wonky again with a minimal population, they are even less prepared.
The good news is that this really gives the cast a chance to shine. Besides Robert Carlye you have standout performances from Poots and Muggleton. Joining the group are Rose Byrne who plays Scarlet, and Harold Perrineau (taking time off from Lost) who plays chopper pilot Flynn. However, the real standout in both the story and the acting is Jeremy Renner, who who plays a U.S. sniper turned refugee savior Doyle. He quickly becomes the most human and engaging character in the whole struggle. He drives the story forward, you feel for him and his position, and amidst a sea of zombie-esque behavior and deranged survivors, he quickly becomes the one character you identify with.
While this film is less "human" in several ways than the original film, it is easily much larger in scope, and like I said before, much, much bloodier. I mean, the amount of violence and gore in this story is much more magnified in this film. If it didn't have such grounded characters, it would seem like just another slasher film. That is in no small part due to the kids, as well as Byrne and Renner, who manage to make it feel like you're right alongside them, desperately trying to flee from the madness that the rage virus embodies.
The direction is much more than competent, and several scenes stand out as pure artwork. When Robert Carlyle is fleeing from a horde of pursuing infectees near the end of the opening scene, you're on the edge of your chair and can feel your heart beating in your throat. Later in the film as things escalate, and the military has their final solution forced, their are some scenes of London under fire that are near operatic in scope. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has done a fantastic job in making a film that is related to the original, but also stands alone as its own entity. You definitely don't have to have seen the first one to appreciate this film, and I found myself not missing the direction of Danny Boyle who, along with original writer Alex Garland, serves as executive producer.
Having said that, there are a few problems in logic along the way like gaping holes in security, an explained jump that the virus takes, and the bizarre behavior of one of the main characters. But when a story is this well told and directed, I'm willing to forgive some small lapses in storytelling. Some of this attack scenes are shot way too close for my comfort, and make it hard to follow what's happening ... and also make you feel like you're watching a Dockers commercial on speed. This seems to happen a lot in movies lately, and I'm not sure why directors don't pull back just a bit to see what's going on in all these choreographed fight sequences.
There's a lot happening in this story, but at the heart it remains a struggle for survival and freedom, and Fresnadillo never loses sight of that. I'd consider maybe a slight notch below the original, but 28 Weeks Later is the kind of horror film that is told with a brain and an eye for the characters, which makes it both compelling and disturbing at the same time.
There's a wide open door for 28 Months later at the end of this film, will we see another one?