Monday, May 14, 2007

Movies: 28 Weaks Later

There's something telling about the fact that 28 Weeks Later is the second flick this season to feature a scene in which zombie hordes are dispatched via the rotors of a flying helicopter. The "whirly bird as undead Cuisinart" meme first popped up in the Planet Terror portion of Grindhouse as a joke. In 28 Weeks Later, a very similar scene is played totally straight-faced. I don't think this is, necessarily, an indication of how little creativity there is in the modern mainstream horror flick. Instead, it points to only real weakness in what is otherwise an excellent film: 28 Weeks Later suffers from being just one more solid zombie flick in a era of countless zombie flicks.

In many ways, 28 Days Later, the superior predecessor to Weeks, benefited from being in exactly the opposite position. Days would have been a notable flick under any circumstances. It is a truly brilliant addition to the zombie cannon. It is well-written, beautifully shot, filled with characters you actually cared about, and is genuinely frightening. It even contains the occasional art-house flourish (the impressionistic field of flowers digitally painted into the flick, for example) to let you know that the folks behind the cameras didn't feel they were slumming. But what ultimately put 28 Days into great category was that it was a fresh look at a sub-genre that had been dormant and free of any major hits for several years. It didn't have to compete with dozens of other zombie films, most bad, some great, and all taking up the same cognitive space.

Now, a couple years after Days and seemingly hundreds of zombie flicks later, Weeks, with a solid script, good acting, and excellent camera works, seems like just another generic zombie movie. The chronological distance between Days and its sources made the film seem like an homage. Some of the films Weeks seems to reference are less than a year old. Is that an homage? Or just lazy filmmaking?

In a way, this is a shame. Weeks is a solid film. The flick follows a handful of different characters: a man haunted by the fact that he abandoned his wife during a zombie attack, two children returning to post-zombie London, and several members of the US-led UN force attempting to re-colonize the UK. We have a larger cast of characters, but the scope of the story demands it and I don't think the film lost anything for being able to spend less time developing the roles of our protagonists. There are several exciting scenes, though they are often more thrilling and action-packed than frightening. The film is less visually striking, but not in any incompetent way. The sequel eschews (sorry, I've been trying to think of a way to work eschew into more reviews) the original's indie-influenced aesthetic for something closer to the rapidly edited, big screen bang of a major action blowout. There's more gore and chewy bits, though the MTV-style editing means it goes by in a flash.

If fact, as far as the actual making of the film itself, I've only one major beef. Much is made in the flick of assumed parallels between the re-colonizing forces in the flick and the current situation in Iraq. Mainly, the theory is, that US soldiers show up claiming to help, but turn out to be willing to oppress and even destroy the locals in order to maintain order and suppress the spread of the rage virus (which, in a bit of retro-continuity, we're told never jumped species – though, as I recall, we got it from monkeys). The allusions aren't subtle – US forces, for example, operate out of the "Green Zone" – so even if your primary source of news is Jon Stewart, you won't miss the topical references. There are two problems with this. First, the metaphor doesn't hold water. In terms of the filmic world of Weeks, the threat from rage is real and the consequences of an uncontrolled outbreak could be globally devastating. The fictionalized US didn't invent a cause to go occupy London nor are they under-estimating and understating the threat. The idea that military forces shouldn't react swiftly and definitively to control the spread of the disease is questionable at best. Worse it leads to a situation where the filmmakers seem to have characters reacting not to the situation described in the flick, but to the situation the film is alluding to. This means our heroes do things that would be heroic if they were in a real desert war somewhere, but are just incredibly dumb given the story of the film. I give the filmmakers credit for not portraying the US army as a bunch of evil yahoos – they are conflicted folks with unique personalities, each deciding whether they will or will not go along with the occupational authorities. But, ultimately, the situations just aren't morally comparable and the whole thing seems distracting.

Second problem is that we've already seen this particular analogy done better. In fact, we've seen it twice recently: in Land of the Dead and 28 Days Later. Which brings us back to the zombie saturation issue. It is time to give zombies a freakin' rest. 28 Weeks Later marks an interesting point in the latest zombie trend: as of the release of this film, it is now possible to make a really good zombie film and still not escape the general fatigue of the sub-genre as a whole. Even a great zombie flick will now just be another zombie flick. Because of this, using the Defunct Hindu Political Parties Movie Rating System, I'm giving 28 Weeks Later a middling Bharatiya Jana Sangh. If this was still 2003, 28 Weeks Later would have rocked the living daylights out of me. Now it is a case of too little, too late.


spacejack said...

I wanted to see this with a friend, who refused on account of having seen too many zombie movies in recent years. Instead, we gave Disturbia a try, which was a bad call. A complete waste of time and money.

Let us know if you find something really worth seeing in the theatre; it's been far too long since I've seen a good horror on the big screen.

Heather Santrous said...

Like Spacejack, my plans fell through to go see this movie. Hopefully I will before it is taken out but no big deal to me if I don't. I have to argue with you though Crwm. I've heard people calling 28 Days and 28 Weeks zombie movies. Can you honestly call them that though?

I know it is a virus that is causing all of this to happen in both movies. But as far as I could tell from the story in the first movie, it doesn't effect the dead and it doesn't cause the people it effects to die. I know the term zombie can be thrown up for debate but I have always thought of them as dead bodies that have come back to "life" to eat the living.

The people in the 28 movies are munching on people but it has more to do with their state of mind more than being true zombies. That is just how I have always felt. They aren't zombies, just some very crazy people.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Jack,

If your friend objects on the basis that they've seen to many zombie flicks, then they will probably find this is more of the same. It is well-done, but nothing particularly innovative. Some of the shots of London play best on the big screen, but most of the film is heavily edited and tightly shot and doesn't particularly need the big screen.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Heather,

I do see your point. But, to be fair, it isn't really until the late 1960s that "zombie" means the "flesh-eating re-animated" corpse. If you look at the early zombie films - White Zombie, Revolt of the Zombies, I Walked with a Zombie - the zombies are more like the Haitian folk concept: dead people brought back to life to serve the bidding of their masters. They aren't these free-roaming, rotting, flesh-eaters. Actually, if I remember, in Night of the Living Dead, they aren't even referred to a zombies.

That said, the films actually call them "the infected," so maybe the filmmakers would be on your side with the issue.

I think, though, that calling them zombies is kosher insomuch as the flicks are clearly zombie films. The same classic scenes and plot points show up throughout.

While we're on the topic – I actually prefer the idea of the infected to the classic undead zombie. Assuming zombies are dead, then they wouldn't be digesting food, which means zombies would eventually "top off." They'd be full of people and unable to eat more – unless they left zombie poop piles about, which, as far as I know, no film has ever suggested. The infected are just crazy, so they still need food and still digest stuff.

Anonymous said...

So I wonder when King's Zombie story "Cell" will be made into a film..

SJ -- Disturbia's been in the money rankings for a while, which surprised me. I haven't seen it, but the trailers just seemed, well, lame. Glad to hear a respected opinion thinks the movie isn't that great.

CRWM -- Did you see the latest 'Shawn of the Dead' movie, "Hot Fuzz" ? (yeah, not horror related or zombie, directly, but seems up your alley, even if I haven't seen it)

Heather Santrous said...

I have only watched one zombie movie where they track zombies by the zombie poop they leave behind. That one was called The Stink Of Flesh. Not a very good zombie flick but I was surprised by the zombie poop.

Sasquatchan: I didn't think much of Disturbia either. From what I remember of it, it had some moments but not very many.

CRwM said...

Screamin' Sassy,

I have seen Hot Fuzz. I thought it was very good, very funny. Worth checking out if you have any fondness for the cop buddy movies it so wonderfully sends up. Nice soundtrack too.