Monday, 18 May 2009

28 Weeks Later

I posted this a while ago on my livejournal but what the hey. I'm about to revisit both movies as it has been a while since I last saw them.

28 Weeks Later is a thing of beauty. It is arguably the first proper post modern and intelligent horror movie since the sublime 2005 remake of The Hills have Eyes. Like Hills, this is a movie which toys with you and plays with conventions and stereotype to deliver something quite different and delicious. Basically, it fucks with your head unapologetically.

The movie begins at the height of the infection, when the Rage Virus is still tightening its grip on the country. It is not explicitly explained that the events in this movie cross over with the events in the first movie but The Infected are still very mobile and operate in numbers. The plot centres around several survivors who are hiding in a country house - Don and Alice and several others trying to find refuge from a world gone mad. The action cuts to The Infected entering the house and culminates in a moment of either cowardice or self preservation that leads to Don being seperated from his wife. The whole scene plays beautifully and not even explosive jump cuts and hand held camera shots detract from the emotional depth of this scene.

The scene cuts from the devastated husband to an on screen graphic explaining the timeline and the devastation the Rage Virus has inflicted on Britain. It is up to America to (once more) restore law and order and their brand of civilisation on an England depopulated by a deadly psychological virus.

With the internal logic of the movie set, we the viewers are drawn into a world of glass and chrome, a brave new world policed by a military power. Guns and heavy artillery take the place of traffic wardens and Big Issue sellers. A new society has been put together in Canary Wharf (which in historical terms is highly ironic). A montage and voice over explains that after 6 months, Britons who were out of the country are to be repatriated in this yuppy fortress. In one effective series of shots we see snipers guarding the city as a lone plane lands and the refugees disemabark. Those refugees include Don and Alice's children. As they are reunited we see more measures in place. The visible exoskeleton of the military and the faceless medics test the dispossessed prior to letting them enter the Wharf. Strangers in their own land. As Don is reunited with his children we are led to believe that all is well, the set up lends an illusion of safety on the surface. The problem is that Don feels a guilt which he has buried and some small throwaway lines about genetic inheritance regarding one of the children foreshadow events.

Tammy and Andy, fearing the life they have left behind will blur into insignificance make a foray into the unsecured areas to retrieve some personal belongings from their old house. In scenes which take their visual cue from the original we can see the human cost of the virus. All seems well when they arrive at the house, they wander around observing their belongings and previous life in retrospect until they find their "dead" mother in an upstairs bedroom. It transpires that Alice is a vector or a carrier in a similar way that rats do not succumb to the Black Plague, this person carries the Rage Virus but has a natural immunity to it.

When the children and their mother are returned to the Wharf, through a slighly contrived set of events the Rage Virus is once more unleashed and chaos ensues.

Arguably, this is the movie 28 Days Later should have been. This was gutsy, layered and just plain nasty in sections of the movie which I can only describe as harrowing. Taking visual (and sonic) cues from its predessor, Weeks is a much more epic and confident take on the post apocalyptic England. It is also its own film and could easily stand alone with out the prequel.
Unlike its prequel which sets up the conventions of the Rage Virus, Weeks is a more balls to the wall action movie which owes more to Aliens and the Dawn of the Dead Remake than Day of the Triffids or the John Mills' take on Quatermas. Think Black Hawk Down rather than All is quiet on the Western Front and you're there. It is also pure metaphor in more ways than one.

Also, I want to raise this issue as no one seems to tackle it properly. Both movies are not Zombie Movies. As both Garland and Boyle explained, these are infected people, not the walking dead. The Rage Virus has been described in interviews as a psychological virus, a riff on social phenomena - the split second moment of madness during road rage attacks or the loss of the self in a football hooligan attack. It exists in every one of us, just choosing its moment to be released. There are a million metaphors crystalised in this.

It could be argued that the Rage Virus is a metaphor for the Chav or ASBO generation, attacks against the cake eating/designerlabel obsessed middle class with all that anger distilled and used against them. Or is the Rage Virus the natural progression for the inherent mental state that lies at the heart of all society, that when everything goes to seed we degenerate into mindless savage primates which attack employing a mindless rage in a bid to reverse the evolutionary clock? The nature of the Rage Virus (for the purposes of the film) is a physical entity, a haemmorgheric virus which takes over the host in seconds (as we see when drops of infected blood are introduced to normal red cells). The host ejects fountains of blood in a manner that recalls the projectile vomiting scenes in the Exorcist. The fact that each droplet is deadly on contact encapsulates the discourse of fear which ran through England during the early 80's during the height of the famous "AIDS Awareness" ad campaigns. Fear of bodily fluids are indexical of those discourses surrounding sexuality and medical fear, it's as if the Rage Virus could have been secreted from the typewriter of David Cronenberg himself as opposed to that of young Brit Lit Rockstar, Alex Garland.

Subtle visual nuances blend to create a truly chilling vision of London laid to waste by this virus. The enormity of human and collateral loss are struck home as we see Tammy entering a deserted Pizza joint. Spoiled food and human remains are juxtaposed to great effect as the film shifts up a gear to open out into a vista of an abandoned and dead London. Director Fresnadillo treats the subject matter with great dignity and an almost reverant eye which almost led me to believe he was a native English geeza.

The tensions in the American team are possibly the most interesting discourse at the heart of the film. I will not say the word Iraq as I will let you make your own minds up although several visual clues harken to Friendly Fire and Hamfisted military decisions which lead to the loss of life of innocents (like you or I). One particuarly harrowing scene where The Infected and Normal People are shot at indiscriminantly recall issues experienced early on in Gulf War 2 (I resist adding Electric Boogaloo, you can thank me for that later). One sniper screams down his comms that he "can't tell them apart" and the chilling use of chemical gas on London streets and Napalm made my blood run cold with fear. Being a child who experienced imminent nuclear destruction during the early 80's and more than a few sleepless nights after BBC's bone chilling dramatisation of what would happen if a nuclear bomb was dropped on Sheffield (Threads, if you haven't seen it, seek it out) I can honestly say I felt 14 years old again. And afraid. Very afraid.

On a less (socially) important note and coming back to my previous point of both movies being "non-zombie movies", The Infected are fucking scary. More so than Romero's Carno-Tropes (a term coined in the 1990 anthology "Book of the Dead"). The fact that The Rage is a psychological virus that infects the host within seconds is hammered home effectively when we see several POV shots and reactions that mirror Romero's own "proto" Rage movie, The Crazies. Both genres of apocalypse can exists side by side but each has their own set of conventions and discourse. The 1968 mentality of Shoot them in the Head and seperate the brain from the body do not apply here. We see The Infected shot by high powered gas rounds, losing limbs and body parts left right and centre. They die a little more indiscriminantly than Romero's Carno-Tropes but the sheer number and speed make the Rage Infected a much scarier and daunting prospect. I'm an utter fan of both genres but the lack of hope and redemption in 28 Weeks left me feeling weak and depressed and my insides churning. Just the way a good horror movie should.

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