Zombie horror film '28 Days Later' may have been tough and uncompromising but it was a damn sight more hopeful for the future of mankind than its nihilistic sequel '28 Weeks Later'. '28 Days...' director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland have stepped into producers roles this time 'round, and the film is helmed by Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo ('Intacto'), who also had a hand in the screenplay. The few of the first film's cast - Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris - that survived the Rage Virus make no appearance here, instead replaced by a transatlantic ensemble that includes 'Lost's Harold Perrineau as a US military helicopter pilot and a cowardly dad, played by Robert Carlyle.
Mainly set in a post-apocalyptic Britain that is under the control of the American military, the infected have died of starvation and reconstruction is about to begin. As refugees return to the country, survivor Don (Carlyle) welcomes his children - 12-year-old Andy (Muggleton) and his older sister Tammy (Poots) - home from an opportune holiday abroad. But 'home' is now confined to District One in London, a quarantined Isle of Dogs which is the only guaranteed safe place in England. Don has to face awkward questions about the death of the children's mother, who we saw him abandoning to the infected in the heart-pounding opening sequence, but otherwise life is returning to normal. The US military snipers atop the buildings have little to do but observe the survivors in the buildings across the way.
But this is a horror film, not - as it seems to start out - a drama about survivor's guilt, so such peace doesn't last long. The runaway kids discover their mother, not yet properly undead, on an impromptu trip back to their house; she turns out to be the carrier that infects the segregated area. Cue general mayhem, bloodthirsty zombies everywhere, US troops ordered to fire on both innocent and infected and spectacular firebombing as Andy and Tammy, with US doctor Scarlet (Byrne) and a sympathetic Marine (Renner) flee for their lives.
One of the eeriest things about '28 Days Later' was the sight of Cillian Murphy wandering through the empty streets of London; Fresnadillo recreates these images, if not quite the same feeling, with long shots of deserted London landmarks. While these brief glimpses of desolation were shocking first time round, this time Fresnadillo spends too much time running on the streets, thus diminishing their impact. The set pieces - a helicopter vs zombie battle in Regent's Park, an unnerving descent into a pitch black Underground station, a panicked drive through a zombie-filled city - work well but there are a few nagging comprehension gaps (why does a zombified Don keep following his offspring, for instance?).
There are some good - if obvious - scares and an appropriate amount of gore, but overall the unrelenting apocalyptic doom of '28 Weeks...' doesn't have the visceral impact that '28 Days...'did. That said, this is a more than passable sequel, which comes complete with a humorous ending that leaves doors wide open for a potential '28 Months Later'.