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Review: '28 Weeks Later' thrillingly effective

Story Highlights

• Review: "28 Weeks Later" effectively horrific
• Film takes place months after events in "28 Days Later"
• Life may be starting anew, but is violent virus gone?
• Film sets up metaphorical comparisons with Iraq
By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- "28 Days Later," a zombie movie on speed, pictured the United Kingdom as a desolate wasteland just a month after a homicidal virus ("Rage") entered the general population.

Although the low-budget hit from "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle ended on a note of muted hope, none of the original characters have survived for "28 Weeks Later," which picks up this localized doomsday scenario several months later.

Too efficient for its own good, the epidemic has long since extinguished itself. With no more human flesh to cannibalize, the infected have starved to death. So the quarantine has been lifted and refugees are being sent to the Isle of Dogs, a safe zone in the heart of London's financial district secured by the U.S. military, to begin anew.

Here Dan (Robert Carlyle) is reunited with his two kids. Tammy (the splendidly named Imogen Poots) is a teenager with pale, wary eyes. At 12, her brother Andy (the even more splendidly named Mackintosh Muggleton) is Britain's youngest resident.

It's quiet in England now. But not for long.

With Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland otherwise engaged on the forthcoming sci-fi epic "Sunshine," sequel duties have been entrusted to Spanish filmmaker Juan Carlo Fresnadillo, whose only previous feature was the eye-catching thriller "Intacto."

Fresnadillo proves a shrewd choice. "28 Weeks Later" combines traditional B-movie virtues -- economy, invention, sinewy narrative spine -- with the eerily resonant spectacle of a 21st-century metropolis stripped of its citizenry. The movie provides an apocalyptic chill with images such as poison gas drifting past Westminster at dawn, or the Docklands being firebombed.

Admittedly, the film has its share of traditional B-movie detriments too: sketchy performances, implausible narrative short cuts, and only nominal emotional investment.

Even with the family fissures running through this story, Fresnadillo fails to flesh out the humanity in his characters in the way that Boyle managed. The action flows thick and fast, culminating in a genuinely scary descent into the pitch-black Underground (frightening enough at the best of times), but at close quarters the director's reliance on a murky palette and blurrily frenetic handheld camera slips from intentionally disorienting to downright confusing.

All these problems collide in a far-fetched scene where a sentimental GI (Jeremy Renner) starts shooting his own guys to protect the children. Much more credible, unfortunately, is the way reconstruction efforts abruptly collapse as military containment degenerates into chaos.

In the movie's most powerful sequence, the security forces decide to give up the hopeless task of distinguishing between the rampaging infected and their terrified prey to shoot down everything that moves.

The parallels with Iraq are so bald, they don't require spelling out -- though it's interesting that London should play this world's-end role again, so soon after "Children of Men." Given the deeply cynical ending, you could twist this political allegory more ways than one, but fear would seem to be an appropriate response.

They don't call them horror movies for nothing.

"28 Weeks Later" is rated R and runs 99 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click hereexternal link.

28 Weeks

Idris Elba plays tough military officer in "28 Weeks Later."

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