Special Review: “28 Weeks Later” – Portrait of Domestic Abuse
Produced by: Enrique López-Lavigne, Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich; Bernard Bellew (co-producer); Danny Boyle, Alex Garland (executive producers)
Written by: Rowan Joffe, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, Enrique López Lavigne, Jesús Olmo
Cinematography by: Enrique Chediak
Music by: John Murphy
Starring: Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack, Imogen Poots, Mackintosh Muggleton, Idris Elba
28 Weeks Later lacks the originality, rawness, and, frankly, the mystique of Danny Boyle’s first film, but it’s a sequel that figures out a perfect way to have the rage virus return and deliver even more terrifying thrills. New director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo remains faithful to the tone of the first film yet focuses on entirely new characters and new ideas in a story that nonetheless continues where the last film left off. But while 28 Days Later told the story of a group of individuals coming together to form what could effectively be called a family, 28 Weeks Later intriguingly stands as a counterpoint to that narrative, weaving into its plot a story about a family torn apart by deceit and violence, and the two children who find themselves caught up in a system that, though well intentioned, may not be able to save them from a horrible fate.
(Due to the essay-like nature of this review, please know that SPOILERS are necessary for my examination, and, thus, do lie ahead!)
The film starts off in the midst of the initial outbreak, with parents Don and Alice Harris holding up with two fellow refugees and an elderly couple in a small cottage. They’ve managed to survive thus far, but they worry about their children, Andy and Tammy, who were away on a school trip to Spain just before the outbreak. Soon, however, another refugee arrives, a small boy pounding on their door for help. His parents have been infected and, along with several others, they manage to break into the house before too long. Alice and the boy seek an escape upstairs, with Don following after them. Cornered in the room, Alice attempts to help the small boy, but Don experiences a moment of cowardice and deliberately leaves behind his helpless wife and the boy who sought safety in their company just as soon as the infected break through the door. Though he escapes, he must now live with the guilt of having sacrificed the lives of those he should have protected in order to save himself.
Fast forward, and a now virus-free Britain is slowly being rebuilt by a U.S.-led NATO force. We are introduced to, Andy and Tammy, who have been living the past several weeks in a refugee camp. Now reunited with their father, he brags about his new position as head custodian of their apartment building before telling them a tearful lie about how he watched helplessly as their mother was killed. Reluctantly coming to terms with this story, the reunited family slowly settles into their new lives. Soon, however, the lie is discovered when their mother is discovered hiding in their old home, alive.
Only when confronted with the guilt of his actions and faced with having to explain his lies does Don ask for forgiveness from the wife he once vowed to protect, who now lies mentally broken and physically restrained to a bed due to her exposure to the virus. Despite her condition, we learn that she is infected yet shows no symptoms, giving hope that somewhere in her genetics is a way toward a vaccine. She seems to forgive him, and so Don kisses his betrayed wife and thanks her. But in their kiss was betrayal, as Don is not immune and becomes infected.
Was Alice aware of her condition and knowingly allowed him to kiss her in a form of retaliation, or was she unaware of the hell that allowing him back in her life would lead to? Either way, what follows is probably one of the most horrific depictions of domestic violence put on film. Just as Don’s passivity allowed Alice to become infected in the first place, now the consequences of those actions are echoed in his own brutal attack on her. Don spreads the virus throughout the district, with Andy and Tammy finding themselves pursued by a raging father. Thinking back on the prologue, where Don abandons not only his wife, but also a small boy who was escaping his own infected family, one must wonder if that was a hint regarding the state of their family before all this happened.
While the parallels of domestic abuse are fairly easy to spot — Don’s actions toward his wife are pretty spot on in their portrayal — one could also read the NATO occupation as a parallel of all those government programs meant to protect children, especially CPC and foster care. As a foreign-led task force sent in to help rebuild a society that is not their own, they struggle to relate to the returning population. We get to see the British refugees be introduced to a new world that has many familiar characteristics and yet is still alien to them. The military liaison explains the new rules to them in simple but serious terms but also shifts tones to pander to their personal interests — NATO was kind enough to make sure that there was a fully functional pub for the Brits, for example. This well intentioned but ultimately uncomfortable, unideal arrangement is better than remaining away from some semblance of home life, and yet the changes are drastic enough to cause unease.
This parallel is further reflected in two American soldiers, Chief Medical Officer Scarlet Levy and Sergeant Doyle, an Army sniper, coming in to serve as surrogate parents to Tammy and Andy. Scarlet is the one who discovers that the mother may hold the key to a vaccine. After the mother’s death, she takes it upon herself to become the kids’ protector, believing that one of them may share in her immunity — especially Andy, who shares his mother’s heterochromia, as well. Doyle, having heard Scarlet’s radio pleas to keep Andy safe in the chaos of the new outbreak, protects Andy from afar with his rifle and later joins her as they attempt to get the children to safety.