I finally got around to seeing 28 Weeks Later on DVD, and it’s a great zombie flick and one of those rarities; a sequel that is a considerable improvement on the original. Not that 28 Days Later was a bad film, it was just sort of typical for the genre; “You’re in the midst of the Zombie Apocalypse, you have to survive. Go!” And, while 28 Weeks starts out in the same place, it goes in a way different direction.
When people talk of fiction, there’s often much made of the distinction between plot and character, or “plot vs. character,” as if the two were somehow in opposition. The fact is, a story needs both to survive. If either is missing it becomes hard for a reader to care. Without character there’s no reason to care about what’s happening. Without plot there’s nothing happening to care about.
Now the connection between the two is not always very strong. There are literary character studies where the protagonist is caught up in events beyond their control and the object is to watch how this person’s character changes, and there are genre stories where interesting sympathetic characters are caught up in some grand adventure that doesn’t do much other than threaten their safety and give them something to do.
But, in the best stories, the plot is a direct result of character and vice-versa. It is a feedback loop that, in a tale like 28 Weeks, sets up a resonant vibration that shakes the whole universe of the story apart. (Before you go on, warning: Here Be Spoilers.)
In 28 Weeks we start with the typical post apocalyptic holdouts, a bunch of people including a man and wife whose children are safely on a school trip out of the country. The movie begins much as Night of the Living Dead ends, with the zombies storming the house, and one lone man (the husband) escaping. This is the point where we enter new territory. Not only do we jump to the post-apocalypse reconstruction effort, we get to see Dad— wracked with survivor’s guilt that’s painful to watch— reunited with his kids. When he breaks down explaining what happened to Mom, we care about this guy and his kids more than any ten characters in a dozen other action/horror films.
This is also key to the series of events that pushes the rest of the movie into motion. The kids slip out of the safe zone, not because they’re kids and kids do stupid shit, but because the son’s grief-stricken and his big sister wants to go back to their house and get some pictures for him. When Mom’s at the house, apparently uninfected, the first thought isn’t “What? How’d she survive?” it’s more “Mom’s alive!”
Of course when the army brings Mom and the kids back and put them in isolation, Dad’s reaction is even more intense. Up to now he believed he had left her to die. Of course he’s going to go see her. . .
The most powerful moment of the whole film is when he’s facing his wife, apologizing for leaving her in the farmhouse to die, and she forgives him! You’ve agonized with this guy since the opening of the movie, and you can see the weight lift off his shoulders. He walks to her side, and even though you’re screaming at him not to, he kisses her.
And unlike so many “too stupid to live” characters in dozens of other movies, you’re not screaming at him because it’s an idiotic thing to do. You’re screaming at him because you know, given what he knows (the plague has burned itself out, the military said so), and what he’s been through (this his his wife) there was precious little else you’d expect him to do. Even though we see it coming, because we see it coming, we’re as horrified as his wife when we see the infection grip him, and when he kills her it’s as close to classic tragedy as I’ve seen a genre film get.
28 Weeks is made of this stuff. Human beings bring about the end of the world, not through malice or stupidity, but because they’re human.