I did not like 28 Days Later one little bit. It was so long and distasteful and pretentious. So I wasn’t too keen to see this one, but it was getting such good reviews that all referenced the political satire that I started getting pretty keen to go. Then I didn’t like it.
We open with a flashback to the time of the original outbreak, with Robert Carlyle [nice to see you again] as this guy hanging out with his wife and other survivors in this farmhouse. His wife gets up to let this kid at the door in [we are soon to learn that children are the cause of all evil] and seconds later are overrun by zombies. A zombie comes between Robert and his wife and he just leaves her there to die. The immediately following scenes of him running across a field with zombies on his tail turned out to be, for me, the most scary and effective sequence in the entire movie. It succeeds in making the running zombies scary, which the first film didn’t do for me.
Then titles inform us that the last zombies died out five weeks after the outbreak, and the American military has moved in to help clean up and help the British repopulate their country. This area is called “District One,” and is often referred to as the “Green Zone.” I hope the political allegory is dangling and throbbing right there in your face. District One is an island where the humans live in protected high-rises. As you can see, Land of the Dead can add one to its “influencer” score a mere two years after it was released.
So Robert’s two kids come back to live with him, a 10-year-old boy named Andy and a girl named Tammy. The boy is played by Mackintosh Muggleton, which is precisely the kind of name you’d expect an annoyingly precious brat whose main occupation is looking poutily thoughtful through his stringy long hair, like the most monstrous Park Slope bobo-spawn ever. He is the spiritual brother of the even more irritating Osheen Jones from Titus. His sister is this young Fiona Apple in training who occupies herself looking beautiful while staring poutily out at the ravaged landscape. Her subtle performance really lets you see her thoughts right on her face, provided the one thought she has the entire film is: “Like, oh my God!”
So these horrid wretch-children have been explicitly instructed NOT to leave the green zone, so of course, the first thing the monstrous brats do is leave the green zone.
SPOILERS > > > AND IF YOU’RE GOING TO WATCH THE MOVIE, YOU REALLY DON’T WANT TO KNOW THIS > > > So they go back to their old house where they find: Their mom! She’s still alive! They bring her in and scrub her down in a nasty sequence I did not need to see, then start doing tests on her. Turns out she’s immune to the zombie virus, but she’s a carrier. Then the kids confront their dad about lying about Mom’s death and he just takes it, without whipping their hides blue for sneaking out of the zone. Then he kisses Mom and becomes infected and—surprise!—the guy you thought was going to be the hero of the movie is a zombie! But uh-oh… that increases the chances that the horrid KIDS are going to be the heroes, and in fact this turns out to be the case.
So there very quickly is a zombie outbreak [the virus spreads and transforms someone immediately], and the living are running through the streets chased by zombies. THAT’S a fine ‘welcome home’ for ya. Then the Army, who cannot tell the living from the dead, are instructed to kill all of them, which is supposed to make us all wring our hands and shed a tear at the woeful disregard for human life that it inherent to the awful, awful military, but in fact it struck me as a fairly good solution. The movie [and the previous one] spends a lot of effort to express how virulent and irradecable this virus is, so if they have to kill a hundred people in order to save the millions that will one day repopulate the city, well, that seems pretty logical and like a decent plan. Sorry if I’m sounding like Ann Coulter here, but I just wasn’t outraged.
In order to do this, the military kills all the lights in the city. Why? Don’t they need to SEE the zombies in order to kill them? Then they firebomb the whole of district one [cool], but by then the kids and their yummy new surrogate parents [Jeremy Renner and Rose Byrne of Wicker Park] and some other random victims are out of the zone and trying to escape.
Toward the end the kids face dad, who has hunted them across the countryside as a zombie. The way it’s presented it seems like he really is singling them out for attack, which is the only indication we have that anyone holds these horrid terrors responsible for anything, although I guess we’re supposed to think that he’s pissed that they forced him to reveal that he lied about his wife. It reminded me a lot of the ending of Paperhouse, in which the girl protagonist’s distant relationship with her divorced father causes him to appear as a figure of terror in her dreams. Anyway, there’s just something a little disturbing about the way he’s specifically after those kids.
So it proceeds. Turns out the kids, like the mother, may be immune, but carry the virus, so the good soldier recommends that they be taken to France, which seems like a bad idea, as the virus will just wipe out the French and then who will make all that delicious French cuisine? They also seem to have forgotten that the whole of England is deserted, so they could just take them far from London, where the only zombies are, and call in to base.
In here is a scene in which a guy takes a helicopter and plows the blades through about forty zombies, sending blood and limbs flying. It’s a little shockingly violent, yet it passes like something out of a video game. A friend of mine is going to watch Blade Runner tonight and we were talking about how that movie has a lower body count, but seems much more violent than this scene, which presents something much more horrific but that is presented as just another thing that happens. In the end the kids are taken to France and we end with shots of an outbreak in Paris, kind of a rip-off of Fulci’s Zombie.
< < < SPOILERS END
The main thing that prevented me from getting behind this movie is that I couldn’t stand those kids. I. HATED. THOSE. KIDS. My alienating annoyance could have been greatly relieved had someone simply said to them “This is all YOUR fault,” or if they showed the slightest bit of awareness that they killed their own father and mother as well as many others through their own isipid whims. Sure, that might have traumatized them forever, but no worse than they’re getting, and besides, a little trauma is good for a kid. Gives ‘em character. But no, I get the sense that we are supposed to sympathize with the kids and hope they survive to pout an pose another day.
All that said, it was better in almost every way than the first one. It wasn’t as boring and gross and it didn’t have the nastiness of an impending gang-rape hanging over the ending. I was into the ideas and the moral conflict and I liked the ways it takes directions you don’t expect it to go in, I just felt like many of the characters made really stupid decisions and yet we were supposed to continue sympathizing with them, and to buy whole hog into its hand-wringing peacenik worldview. I didn’t love Land of the Dead, but that’s beginning to look better and better.
You can, but I wouldn’t bother.
28 DAYS LATER is the first film, about the initial outbreak.