28 Weeks Later is not a good movie. Here’s why in a few short reasons: 1) the over-stylization undermines the drama; 2) specific aspects of the plot exist solely to squeeze false-feeling drama from it; 3) the social commentary wants so badly to play that it becomes almost comical.
1) My biggest problem with the film, and a good way to follow-up my post Style(less) is the style of the film. Fresnadillo favors a handheld camera, a saturated, grimy visual style, and multiple bursts of slow-motion or blurred (slow shutter speed) action. It is absolutely confounding to watch these sequences. They generally occur at what are supposed to be the most dramatic, exciting, suspenseful, and often violent, moments in the film. Instead of emphasizing these moments, the style completely detracts. Case-in-point:
Don (Robert Carlyle) gets infected with the rage virus. As he starts to go berserk the film suddenly cuts from a “normal” style (24 frames per second, 1/60 shutter, diegetic sound, etc) to Fresnadillo’s stylization (slow-motion, blurred action, echoing, non-diegetic soundtrack). First, the edit completely skips a crucially suspenseful beat, which is the beginning of Don’s rampage. Second, the new visual style (“rage sequence” if you will) makes the action not dreamlike or surreal or dramatic as Fresnadillo likely wanted, but instead laughable in its presentation. Gone are the shockingly fast movements and hyper-diegetic sounds. Instead the film plays like a train-station-farewell. It’s the wrong type of drama. Form and content are in direct conflict with one-another.
2) Why does Don – the infected – feel the need to follow his children? Do these “zombies” (infected) have strong familial ties? There’s no evidence to support this. This part of the plot, fairly crucial, particularly in terms of the surrogate father figure on which the film ends, is tacked on. Don could be such an interesting character but Fresnadillo and screenwriter Rowan Joffe decide to ignore what could be a heightened and tense family drama and instead go straight for easy irony (Don is infected by his wife, whom he left to be infected). By playing this out easily and at the end of the first act/middle of the second, the director and screenwriter are left with little aside from a simple chase scene to make the rest of the film play through. It’s very weak. Here’s a suggestion: avoid the irony, infect someone else, let the rage virus spread, and have Don and his children in conflict because they know that he left his wife/their mother to die. Much more interesting. Much more depth.
3) We can all thank George Romero (or his critics) for popularizing the idea that a zombie film is automatically a social commentary. Some films have taken this idea to very interesting heights. Others – 28 Weeks Later – feel the need to include such themes simply because of their place in the genre, and therefore suffer. SPOILER: Stone (Idris Elba – will someone give this man a good role?) the “stone-cold” military commander gives his sentries permission to fire-at-will on zombies or civilians (“anything at ground level”) once it becomes clear that the virus is about to spread rapidly. Chaos ensues. Innocents are killed.
Fresnadillo and Joffe seem to want to implicate the government (of the US? Britain?) in its inability to react not only swiftly, but also safely and intelligently to any crisis. There’s the obvious criticism that any state run by the military is not a safe state and that absolute power is a terrible thing blah blah blah.
The biggest problem with all of this? Everyone involved is so underdeveloped. Stone has all of 15 lines. He comes out of nowhere. Who is this guy? There is no background given on anyone. The decision to fire is so coldly given, with little-to-no example of counter-argument that it simply becomes “what happened” instead of “what shouldn’t have happened.” Fresnadillo tries to wring drama out of the situation by more over-stylization, but also by cutting away to various military personnel as they look on at the chaos in horror. The problem is that I don’t know these people either. I don’t know anyone on ground level. It’s a massacre, and as far as a definition goes, it’s a horrible thing, but there is no human connection.
Before I finish this post, a random thought/question: what is it with night-vision in horror films? 28 Weeks Later, Cloverfield, REC, The Descent…they all use it. Is this a remnant from Predator? Is it a visual preference? One of the few current ways to get an audience to jump? It’s boring.