Zombie sequel reaps what it sows

  • May 11, 2007

When Hieronymus Bosch painted hell in the 15th century it was shocking, thrilling and repulsive. The same was true of the 2002 British horror movie 28 Days Later.

Bosch painted theology on canvas. He gave us something to think about after our eyes got used to the gruesomeness. The movie 28 Days Later showed us a post-civilization world where the only energy left keeping bodies moving was pure rage. The premise was simple — a virus, communicable by blood, which turns people into rage-filled zombies, is quickly infecting every person in England. The survivors have to be ready to kill to keep themselves and each other alive. A bicycle courier who wakes up in a hospital 28 days after the outbreak becomes a knight in shining armour, prepared to save two damsels from a fate worse than death, but in the process he becomes indistinguishable from the mindless monsters he battles.

The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, gives us much less and much more. It gives us more gore, a louder soundtrack, more seasick digital camera work — but much less to think about.

{sa B0000BZJCM}In 28 Days Later director Danny Boyle wondered what it means that the one thing that unites us is anger and the violence which ensues. What if anger is contagious? What if it’s in the blood and part of who we have become? In the sequel this same premise has to carry a heavy load of political allegory.

This time Britain is an occupied nation. U.S. Armed Forces have come in to clean up and take over after the first outbreak of the virus has run its course, depopulating the island. Eerie shots of an empty city of London in the first movie are magnified to enormous scale in the much better financed sequel. But where the empty city pictures five years ago raised a question about what civilization has come to — what it all means once you remove the human — in the sequel the shots are immediately cluttered up with American soldiers in green fatigues and sunglasses, guns trained on buildings full of corpses.

This time the movie doesn’t ask a question without first giving the answer. The soldiers, dealers of death, are there to deal with death, and as you sow so shall you reap.

As might be expected by patrons who are sitting in the dark waiting for a summer horror movie, the virus breaks out again. We get to see the futility of a military response to a human catastrophe. The parallels to Iraq and the War on Terror are laid on thick, but then the movie has nowhere to go with its critique of the security mindset as a basis for civilization.

When we finally get to the helicopter chopping up a horde of rage-infected zombies it does appear the writers and director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo have given up trying to teach us, eschatologically, the error of America’s ways. They just need to give us another 30 minutes of gruesome culture-of-death images so we can get to a final, resolving shot of a pair of blank faced young survivors waiting to be airlifted into a future no better than their past.

Bosch didn’t just paint hell. He also showed us Eden and the life God meant for human beings. However angry and right he was about power-drunk clergy and the greedy, grasping mercantile class he pictured in hell, it was more important for the Dutch painter to show us hope, love and the goodness of creation. 28 Weeks Later is right about the futility and stupidity of war, paranoia, callous calculation and mere technology as the basis for a civilization or a political order. But it’s easy to be right about Iraq. It’s no use being right about a bad war unless we also have some means of nurturing and encouraging things that give us hope.

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