Of all the genres out there, horror films have maybe the most rigorously defined conventions. That’s why Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later was such a surprise. It pushed the boundaries of what a genre film could be, while hitting all its horror film marks. Making a sequel was always going to be tricky business and Boyle’s decision to stay on the sidelines and produce, rather than direct, is a smart move on his part but an unfortunate one for us.
Set a few months after the epidemic that ravaged England is supposedly under control, we find out that Don (a suitably peaked Robert Carlyle), one of the few survivors, left his wife to be killed by the infected and bears the weight of his secret guilt. This provides the emotioval subtext when he is reunited with his two kids. They’re living in a quasi-police state run by American soldiers who occupy a “green zone” (get it?) in an unsubtle reference to the current event taking place in Iraq. Portrayals of stiff-jawed American military types are in keeping with the whole film’s stiff-backed approach to the conventions of the genre, from the dew-eyed brave children in peril to the sensitive female maternal figure and rogue rebel within the system who performs a heroic act of self-sacrifice.
The film does have satisfying moments of pure horror thrills, but instead of riffing on the clichés as Boyle did, the makers of the sequel present them intact and try to disguise the fact through a barrage of digital trickery. The rock video aesthetics only create distance from the characters and their ensuing flight from the faceless infected and overzealous US military figures is an exercise in digitally-altered tedium.