Don't Kiss the Undead

No matter how you count it, '28 Weeks Later' is a great zombie flick

I don't see a lot of horror movies because I find them scary. Or frightening. Some are frightening. But every now and then, I find that the world is too happy and calm, and so I betake myself to the local cinema to viddy something with the screaming.

And so it was that I saw 28 Weeks Later, a sequel to 28 Days Later that occurs roughly 196 days after that movie. It's a zombie film, a category I find fascinating, because "zombie" used to mean the soulless slave of a Haitian magician, but now it means someone who eats at McDonald's.

Whatever. The great advancement of 28 Days Later was the introduction of the running zombie. In earlier zombie movies, the zombies ambled, meandered or shambled, which doesn't seem very scary. Some sauntered, and this is mildly frightening, but not so much as to make you uncomfortable. But in 28 Days Later, zombies run screaming for blood and tear you to shreds and turn you into a mindless monster. This horrifies me, because I do not like being torn to shreds.

But that is just what these zombies will do, thanks to an outbreak of a zombie virus that has completely depopulated England. After all the zombies starve to death, the United States military goes in to help democratize England and eliminate any remaining weapons of zombie destruction. Everything is peachy keen until mission creep seeps in, and the next thing you know, U.S. soldiers are hurting civilians and stuff is getting all blowed up.

Cinematically, there are two ways to handle this sort of plot: It can be dull and boring with lots of preaching about the horrors of war, or it can be totally awesome with zombies. Given the options, the producers of 6 Months and 15 Days Later decided to go with the latter strategy, which works out swimmingly.

In short, 14 Fortnights Later is a stunningly scary and tense action film. It starts back during the period of the first film when a group of non-zombified English persons are hiding out in a farmhouse. A knock at the door bodes ill: It might be zombies!

But, no, it's a young child. Sadly, that child is being chased by zombies, which leads to the wholesale eating of a bunch of Brits who would prefer to remain uneaten.

Three things stand out in this sequence: The music is excellent; the cinematography carries both information and terror; and the zombies lack the emotional reserve one usually associates with citizens of the United Kingdom.

I can't say enough good things about the music. Instead of simply stabbing at the audience with staccato terror tunes, it creates a moody atmosphere with slow swells that allow composer John Murphy to increase the terror over the course of an extended scene.

The cinematography is perfectly choreographed with the music and draws strong effect from clear, sudden cuts to close-ups of hungry zombies eating an entire nation of shopkeepers.

After the initial horror has established that this movie will be less comforting than, say, It's a Wonderful Life or Field of Dreams, the film jumps forward some indeterminate amount of time (I'm guessing it's in the range of 16,934,400 seconds later) to scenes of the heroic U.S. Army rebuilding London, where Anglo-Saxons who had escaped the plague are being resettled into condominiums full of warm beer and fried foods.

But! The doctor in charge of studying the virus raises an interesting question: What if the virus returns? The answer: The film would have a plot!

Not wanting to miss out on that, the four writers, six producers and one director of this movie simultaneously thought, "Yeah, what if the virus returns?" I won't say how it returns, because that's one of the more clever and terrifying bits, but I will say this: It's probably a bad idea to let children run around in a zombie-infested area, plus, no matter how enticing it seems, please, please, do not French kiss a zombie.

So once the zombies return, 54 Percent of a Year Later presents a very effective chase sequence. A small group of survivors is led by Sgt. Doyle (Jeremy Renner), who embodies the part of the heroic guy with a lot of weapons, but does it without relying on the kind of machismo that brought Mel Gibson so much money and religious sensitivity.

Instead, Doyle seems competent, confident and frightened as he tries to get the doctor (Rose Byrne) and two meddlesome kids to a soccer stadium (because the British love soccer). The kids are played by Imogen Poots and Mackintosh Muggleton. Seriously, their names are Poots and Muggleton. I hope Professor Dumbledore won't be mad at them for starting a zombie plague.

Ultimately, there's not a lot more to say about Oh, Roughly Half a Year Later, because it's simply an excellent zombie film. If you like those, you'll like this. If you don't, then probably a film about a woman who finds out that her fiancé is gay and who then marries a crippled violinist and becomes a surrogate mother for her ex-fiancé and his architect lover is more your speed. Since The Feelings of Autumn, The Autumn of Feelings won't be out until next Boxing Day, you'll just have to stay home while all your cool friends see 28 Weeks Later. Or, if you want, you can just imagine that one of the zombies is Princess Diana, and she's seeking revenge on the royal family but then decides that love is the answer, and she marries a garbage man. Either way, it's good zombie action.

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