Monday, January 14, 2008

28 Days later, 28 weeks later, 28 years later and forever

And then the world was empty.

That was 28 days after.

And when we tried to fix it, the world emptied again.

That was 28 weeks after.

And it began with monkeys.

Caution: Lot's of spoilers, very long, while this post will talk about 28 Weeks Later and 28 Days Later it will deal primarily with 28 Days Later and a second post will deal with 28 Weeks Later

(note: I kind of liked 28 Days Later better (although that might be because I watched 28 Weeks Later in 2 shifts, but I think it's because 28 Days Later is a better film, but also since I'm doing the 28 Days Later post first, it will probably be longer and more in-depth)

There's actually a good tradition of monkey-based sci-fi horror (see 12 Monkeys), but 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later strike things a little different than most. Let me start with 28 Days Later.

The film starts insanely. It starts with a monkey watching flashes of violence. Other cages of monkeys surround the scene. And then enter the animal activists. The scientist warns them, but they are some specially intense kind of stupid (well, perhaps a kind of stupid animal activists often have). And the scientist tells them. They're infected with rage: We have to understand it before we can stop it. You don't know what you're doing. Don't do it.

And then the monkeys are released, a monkey tears into an activist and vomits blood into her. And her eyes go red, and now she too is infected with rage.

28 Days Later.

Now the movie really starts. And this start is beautiful, elegant and supremely creepy. A patient in an isolation ward wakes up. The world is empty. There is soda and candy from the vending machines, he can live. But there is just pure emptiness, with only minute clues. Infection. Exodus. Quarantine.

These two scenes give the fullness of the film's atmosphere. It is a cross between creepy insanity and chilling beauty. The hospital patient Jim finally stumbles upon a hidden cache of the infected and the creepiness returns. A couple of survivors save Jim and tell Jim the truth. Jim can't take it, needs to see his parents. the empty house, the emancipated corpses, the chilling beauty returns. But Jim lights a candle near a window watching memories play in his head. This is when it becomes clear that this movie isn't just the an intense realistic zombie movie. The color saturated memory scene intensifies the chilling beauty. But then... you don't light a candle near the window when zombies are most active at night.

Careless. This is a repeated theme of 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. People are careless, they release infected monkey, they give away their location to monkeys, they don't monitor the infected, they give complete access to one man without being careful about him, they kiss the infected despite blood-borne transmission. Just carelessness. It kills. It kills us all.

The light in the window signals the zombies and they crash through the window in a rampage. The super-fighter chick of the two survivors who saved Jim leads the defense and together they kill the infected, except the male survivor was bitten. And so, Seline, the ruthless, the beautiful, the survivor, chilling and insane and beautiful, kills the man she's spent so many days surviving with, the only friend she's had in the dead world. You have to, she tells Jim. Even if it means killing you. But I wouldn't says Jim. Seline's the survivor, Jim's the sentimentalist. Still they only have each other.

But there's a light in the window so far away. It's blinking. Night has fallen, the infected are loose, but the infected are mindless killers, and they can't work lights. So Jim and Seline venture to the skyscraper where the light was. There's a barrier of shopping carts, but these can be climbed. There are stairs to walk. But the infected can climb stairs. And so they're running. And Seline is leaving Jim behind and the infected are coming, but they're running and running.

A man in riot gear stands at the top of the stairs. He pushes Jim and Seline through to the upper hallway while he faces the infected. Jim and Seline bang on the door beyond but the man's daughter won't open it, she wants to see her father, and then...

The man beats the infected zombies, he tells his daughter to open the door and she does. Everyone shares a meal and even some liquor. It's a celebration, people are united, the two pairs of two become four. But Seline doesn't trust them, there's some reason hidden here. Seline's the survivor, but Jim's the sentimentalist, he trusts them, but he also thanks Seline, and she gives him a Sure, which she assures him is sincere.

I thought for a moment here this was going to be the standard hidden bad guy horror story where the people they join are actually evil. Well, that actually will come. But these two are good. And they know something Jim and Seline don't. There's a radio signal broadcasting a recording from a military group, promising a cure for the infection. And so they set off.

There are run-ins with infected but for the most part the trip has an odd feel to it. It is beautiful and romantic, the four become a family, and Jim and Seline start to fall in love. Very beautiful, but slightly creepy in this dead world where the infected could lurk anywhere. And where the urge to revenge might even urge one to seek the infected out and kill them, even a small child.

There's the undertheme, one repeated in 28 Weeks later, man becoming as vicious as monsterous as the infected. Even though as the film makes clear, their eyes are not the red that belong to the infected.

The four make it to the army base, but it is abandoned. It is empty, just like the rest of the world. Machines are there, buildings, but no people. The father is devestated, this was the future he had depended on, the future he needed for his daughter. Sadness, frustration, and he wanders around the deserted base, uncaring, careless:

And then a drop of blood falls on his eye. From an infected corpse. And the infection is bloodborne. The dad staggers. His daughter runs to him with concern but he calls her to stay back, and Seline grabs her. And Jim, the dad knows what Jim must do. But shots ring out. Snipers. The army birgade is still alive, even if they're late.

The army birgade has it all. A fortress with every defense against the infected. Lots of guns. Food. Water. Plans and hopes for the future with 9 young soldiers with a charismatic and fatherly commander. They do not have the cure, despite what they promised, but they do have an infected chained up, one they hoped might yield a cure through experiments (shades of Day of the Dead), but all they find, is the infected take time to starve. But enough time the commander knows they will starve, and then the world will belong to humans again.

The soldiers are a rowdy bunch, some desperate, some joking, some depressed, but they believe in their commander. And when the infected attack, they run to the guns and can fend off the attack. Here I notice something, Seline doesn't run to the battlements, but Jim does. It may be because Seline's now in love or because she needs to stay with the daughter, but still... that's a little lame. The next moment makes up for things.

The battle is over. The boys are cocky and triumphant. They see Seline, one soldier, the cockiest, takes here machete blade and boasts he will protect her now. She doesn't take well to this. He doesn't take well to rejection. He grabs for her, Jim defends her, he takes on Jim, the most depressed soldier takes on the cockiest, chaos is breaking loose and... the commander arrives. The matter is settled. And he takes Jim aside apologizing...

And then telling the truth. The boys need hope. They need a future. The world needs a future. But a future requires women. The commander had promised them women.

Jim rushes to the Seline and the daughter, he tries to get them in time. But the soldiers take the women, and beat down Jim. The depressed soldier tries to stop things but he can't. The commander offers Jim to join them. But he refuses, and so he and the depressed soldier will be executed.

The cocky soldier and one of the nicer soldiers take them to the woods. The cocky soldier isn't satisfied however with just killing them. He wants to use the bayonet. But the nicer soldier, he can't stand it, he just can't, and so... he shoots the depressed soldier. Deprived of his revenge for interference, the cocky soldier tackles the nicer soldier and in the struggle, Jim escapes. They chase after him, they shoot, they miss. He goes out of the wall. That's good enough for them.

There's a strangeness to the killing power of the infected. Sometimes it seems invincible, sometimes it seems fairly easy. Perhaps it's just a matter of whether they're in hordes, but these don't quite seem like creatures that could destroy civilization and the merry little island of England. Still, it is a disease, not understood at first, and supposedly highly contagious. Just a tear, or even a bit of saliva in a kiss as 28 Weeks Later would show. But the army men are convinced of their killing power (I'm a bit surprised there isn't infected hunts, well, so many have died in this movie, but still, it seems with enough guns and enough care... but as these two movies show again and again, people are careless.).

Presumed dead, desperate, alone, what is Jim to do... but there's a plane overhead, there's hope, there's a future, there's something to save Seline and the daughter for.

Perhaps it's this to convince Jim that even if the army men are survivors, their plans of rape deserve capital punishment.

I understand capital punishment for rapists, even though I don't agree with it. I can agree with killing a rapist to prevent a rape if there's no other choice, but what Jim does...

There's a breach at the wall and it starts to rain. The commander takes one soldier and goes himself, allowing the other soldiers to dress up the girls. It seems odd for the commander to do that, he's a rather utilitarian man, but then again he might want to preserve the boys ideas of society. But still dressing the girls up... it was shown that he feels bad about what is going to happen, but he believes that it is necessary. Do the other soldiers also feel like that? Some of them do, but some are just happy to get sex. And some are just far too excited. Why does the commander leave them to investigate the breach? Is he too disgusted with what's happening? Is he just scared of Jim's abilities? Is he just careless though?

The movie is a bit inconsistent about this. Why is Jim such a damn good fighter? He was a bicycle courier before the infection. Did he just learn along the way? But shouldn't the soldiers be even better? Maybe Jim's just more ruthless, but aren't the soldiers, well soldiers, who also have lived through all this? This actually bugs me.

But Jim fights. He kills the soldier accompanying the commander and strands the commander far from the fortress. And Jim also leaves a small squad of infected for the commander to deal with.

This hints at what Jim will do in the fortress. Jim makes it to the fortress, past the defenses and climbs on the outside, to a little internal courtyard. There they have a chained infected. Apparently, I guess because of the women, the infected isn't guarded, but maybe that's because it's chained so well. But not well enough for the gun Jim lifted from the soldier he killed. An infected is loose. Some of the soldiers go to investigate. They leave Seline and the daughter under low guard, and allow Seline to give the daughter some Valium so she just won't care about what she still thinks is going to happen (I wonder couldn't the commander have done something like this?).

But the infected are loose, and the soldiers are caught off guarded, and slowly the soldiers are either infected or dead. A few hide, one tries to flee, but Jim's there, with the bayonette. It doesn't matter that the soldier was fleeing, or even that this was the nicer soldier who had spared the depressed soldier the bayonette. And Jim doesn't give him a finishing shot. For though his eyes are not red, his face is blood covered and his mind filled with rage...

Seline and the daughter run, they hide, and all the soldiers die. 9 boys. Some too young to be anything but cadets. 9 of the few left in Britian. Even with the plane in the sky are there than many humans to spare? Yes, rape is horrible, but this? Perhaps that's why the filmmakers highlighted the bayonette. Perhaps Jim's not supposed to be the hero. Perhaps...

But at last there's just the cocky soldier, Seline, and Jim. There was another soldier, but Jim led the infected to him, and that was injured and Jim abandoned him. The commander's still out there, but he stopped to hold the hand of the dying bayonetted soldier. The commander cries, while Jim hunts. The daughter is then cornered by an infected but she hides behind a mirror. The infected stares at it, does the infected recognize himself, recognize what he's become? Maybe he just doens't understand a mirror. In the end, he leaves the daughter. If he hadn't... Jim saved one woman from rape while leaving one woman dead. But the daughter survives and then it's just the cocky soldier, Seline and Jim.

Jim surprises the cocky soldier and though the cocky soldier took Jim before, this time Jim isn't fighting like a man. He tears into the cocky soldier, ruthless, unstoppable. And then to finish it, hands in the eyeballs (to cement this as infected behavior, it is echoed by an infected in 28 Weeks Later). Seline can not believe this is Jim. She prepares to kill him as an infected, but... he then jokes with her, and she kisses him. I'm not sure even the killing that just happened was as creepy as that carefree kiss.

The daughter and Jim and Seline rush to the car, they need to escape, infected still are loose. But the commander is waiting there. You killed my boys. He shoots Jim, but the daughter manages to take the car and crash it just enough to kill the commander. Jim blacks out.

We next find them in a shed in the country side. The daughter is preparing something outside. Seline is converting the dresses into fabric for other purposes, and Jim greets her with a smile on his face. The day is bright outside, and the camera wanders. The infected now are truly starving, they lie with their stomaches distended, dying, finally. And a plane flies above it all. The daughter hears it far away and tells Jim and Seline to rush out, they rush to straighten out long sheets of fabric, and the camera pans back.

They spelled out a word in giant sheets of fabric. It's hello. Not help, but hello. Just a greeting that belongs to a world that as it turns out isn't actually dead.

The plane flies overhead, and Jim remarks: I think this time they saw us.

What does that mean exactly, really... the obvious and probably intended answer is that the plane probably did see them and they'll be rescued soon and the "again" might be referring to the last plane Jim saw or previous planes they saw before but couldn't signal to it.

There's another answer I'd like, maybe they've done this before, and before, and before. But the plane never lands. The infected are too mindless to spell out words so the plane would know that they aren't infected. But maybe, the plane knows that those who survived have been reduced to the level of the infected.

Jim with his hands in those eyeballs.

But the cheery sunlight, the cheery music. It's so bright. I have to wonder if the movie is suggesting not only that the three not only were saved, but deserved to be saved.

It's just something...

I dunno. There are the words of the depressed soldier, wondering if the normal was a world free of humanity, and that if humanity did die that would be a return to normal, defying the weeping of the other soldiers for the previous world they call normal.

There are scenes of nature, one is actually a painting which they drive through, there is a family of horses galloping. It is beautiful. And it is empty of humanity. The world dead of humans is still alive with nature.

Perhaps that's something.

Zombie movies always have a scare factor and a degree to which they are made just as a matter of emotional artistry (or attempted so). Of course some are just made as violence porn (sometimes perhaps this veers into that, was it really necessary to show the eyeballs being pierced, couldn't that just be implied?). But usually zombie movies are a critique of the world, where the zombies are in the end humans stripped of illusions (see especially Dawn of the Dead series or I am Legend). Is that the case here. The commander at one point says: Today I see humans killing humans and that's what I saw before the infection and before that. Rage was a condition of humanity. They were trying to cure it. They were so ambitious. But they were careless.

That ambition. Perhaps that's the flaw. The tragic flaw of humanity that dooms them. They were trying to cure rage, they infected the world, just like the dreaming conquerors of history. The soldiers were trying to recreate the world, but that what they believed was necessary, it killed them all. In 28 Weeks Later they tried to rebuild a nation, they end up infecting the world. How many nationalists have done the same?

Is it all about rage? Jim wakes up free of rage, free of any objects of rage, he apologizes for awakening the infected at first. Jim becomes an avatar of rage more than humanity. But he ends just smiling waiting for rescue. Perhaps then, the illusion is simply restored, and that it fell off was forgotten, especially since now the infected were starving, there were no more reminders it was easy to forget.

Forgetting... that would lead to what would happen The 28 Weeks Later...

I'm not sure in the end what everything meant from the piece. It still was crafted with utter care. It still brushed at things much deeper than violence porn which justified most of the violence and horror. It still showed a world reduced to another corner of hell. This earns the film a 7 out of 10 (which is very good in my book, I know that even with the same 10 point scale, the actual calibration of those points vary between critics immensely).

And hell doesn't simply go away. Even as illusions return. This 28 Weeks Later would show...

So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

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