The infected are back, and with them the core creative forces behind the surprise international hit 28 Days Later, as director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo picks up the torch originally sparked by Danny Boyle to offer a true rarity in the world of horror sequels -- a film that nearly eclipses its predecessor on all counts. While die-hard Boyle fans may initially balk at this sequel due to the fact that the visionary director opted not to reprise his role at the helm, a quick glance at the credits reveals that not only did he remain onboard as executive producer, but original producer Andrew Macdonald, original writer Alex Garland, original editor Chris Gill, and even original composer John Murphy -- whose swelling score effectively drives home the emotion of the smaller, quieter moments while seamlessly sweeping the viewer up in the action scenes -- all saw fit to remain on board in order to keep the machine running smoothly. Throw into the mix a promising young director whose debut feature Intacto drew impressive reviews from international critics, and you have the perfect recipe for a sequel that impressively maintains the aesthetics and intimate feel of the original while subtly expanding on the mythology in a manner that, while impossible to discuss without resorting to spoilers, feels both fluid and organic. Most fans of the original will admit that while they do indeed like the film it does have its fair share of problems -- a reality that Boyle himself seemed to acknowledge while laughingly dismissing some of his more far-fetched ideas in the DVD extras -- and though the sequel too has a handful of eyebrow-raising issues, the overall result is a thinking person's "zombie apocalypse" flick that maintains an impressive emotional core while never losing sight of its genre roots.
As a filmmaker Fresnadillo's abilities may not yet be honed to the fine point that Boyle's were by the time he took on the infected, though for his sophomore outing the Goya-winning director does display an impressive ability to conjure convincing performances from his players; Robert Carlyle in particular hits all the right notes as a survivor of the original outbreak whose fate is sealed by a particularly reprehensible act of cowardice, with Mackintosh Muggleton and Imogen Poots always convincing as his skeptical and fiercely independent children. Whereas Fresnadillo could be accused of relying too much on the eye-straining grand mal school of camera jostling when things take a turn for the worst and the infection reemerges, it's hard to argue that the technique effectively conveys the chaos that characters trapped between trigger-happy snipers and teeth-gnashing ragers would be feeling as bullets whizzed by their heads and adrenaline-fueled cannibals storm the streets killing anything that moves. Even when his technique is more restrained, however, Fresnadillo's uncanny ability to make viewer believe they have a grasp on the situation before pulling back to reveal that things aren't quite what they seem goes a long way in driving home the disorienting volatility of such an explosive scenario. In terms of screenwriting Fresnadillo (along with collaborators Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Jesus Olmo, and Rowan Joffe) do occasionally rely too much on exposition, though that fairly minor shortcoming is ultimately offset by the creation of characters that are identifiable and sympathetic, and unrelentingly tense situations that truly fray the nerves. Ever since Night of the Living Dead "zombie apocalypse" films have been rife with political subtext, and while it will be clear to many precisely what the screenwriters are getting at when the new arrivals pull into an eerily quiet London where U.S. soldiers stand at the ready on every street corner, 28 Weeks Later refuses to go for the obvious. The military forces in charge of reestablishing society more aren't evil, self-serving occupiers as much as they are inept, well-intending protectors who are ultimately consumed by a situation they just can't wrap their heads around. The subtle commentary on life within a "surveillance society," while never really explored in such detail, also provides compelling food for thought.
In the end 28 Weeks Later is a film that's likely to be as polarizing for many viewers as it's predecessor was due to its outspoken politics and unique experimentation with genre standards, yet for those seeking out a stripped down summer frightener that doesn't take three hours to make its point, impressively expands on the ideas of the original while upping the scale and terror ante, and actually attempts to stimulate thought rather than insulting the viewer's intelligence, there's quite a bit to like about this vicious little summer screamer.