Bright Lights Film Journal

Return of the Return of the Repressed: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s <em>28 Weeks Later</em>

Look familiar?

When considering any contemporary zombie film, it is virtually impossible to resist comparison to the work of George A. Romero. Although many directors within the genre attempt to appropriate those elements which made films such as Night of the Living Dead(1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) so significant, few are successful. As certain critics have noted, Romero’s films remain important because they operate allegorically and engage in radical critique of the status quo ideology. Just as it seems that the genre now characterized by films such as Zombie Honeymoon (2004) and Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005) might be as dead as its cinematic inhabitants, however, 28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2007) emerges as a promising work with both a distinctive creative vision and the kinds of sociopolitical resonances that recall Romero’s work.

28 Weeks Later picks up where 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002) left off. It returns to London, where the Rage virus has been extinguished and social order restored with the aid of the U.S. Army. The city is now being slowly repopulated, but must continue to operate under martial law, reminding viewers of the excessive levels of surveillance by current conservative political systems in both America and Britain. Newly instated individuals remain under constant observation, illustrated in one scene in which a soldier spies upon the inhabitants of an apartment complex through the scope of his rifle. The film also contains an important commentary regarding American occupation within foreign territories. As the U.S. continues to occupy Iraq despite claims that the situation is improving, the film reveals the dangers of false security under rigid governmental control.

The weaknesses of this occupation become apparent when the Rage virus is reintroduced to the city by one individual. Alice (Catherine McCormack), left for dead by her husband Don (Robert Carlyle), returns to London infected by the virus. Although she possesses immunity, a unique trait passed on to her son Andy (Mackintosh Muggleton), she remains a threat to the larger population. When she inadvertently infects Don, the virus quickly spreads throughout the city. The United States Army engages in a code red, with orders to kill anything in sight. This marks a direct reaction to the coding system employed by the Bush administration to warn its citizens against the possible threat of terrorist attack. During this section, the film utilizes fragmented and abrasive editing patterns to emphasize the level of chaos at work with both humans and zombies being destroyed by the hands of American soldiers. However, one soldier refuses. Doyle (Jeremy Renner) denies his orders and helps both Andy and his sister Tammy (Imogen Poots) to safety. Doyle’s actions represent aspects of the current disillusionment experienced by citizens operating under the conservative social agendas of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. His refusal to conform serves to remind viewers that individuals still retain the right to protest ideological contamination.

28 Weeks Later ends on a particularly nihilistic note that recalls Night of the Living Dead. Like Romero’s film, it involves an ironic death, suggesting that no one is impervious to the larger political structures at work. Andy, now infected but possessing immunity to the virus, escapes with Tammy via helicopter. Initially, it appears as if the two will survive and experience the type of happy ending occupying many contemporary films. But an epilogue reveals that no one has survived, and that the virus has now spread overseas.

28 Weeks Later is an important work containing a timely subtext lacking in many contemporary horror films. It resembles Romero’s cinema as an allegorical critique of the current sociopolitical system. It stands among the most inspired of recent horror films, and demonstrates that the genre may still be used effectively. It’s also a particularly resonant film to emerge at this time. Although its depiction of a post-apocalyptic social structure may be fictional, 28 Weeks Later reflects the possible consequences of continuing to exist under the corrupt political institutions currently at work in both America and Britain.