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The War on Horror

In 28 Weeks Later, zombies spell trouble. But so do the Americans who’ve come to wipe them out. Plus: L’Iceberg, a frozen treat.

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How uplifting to see that zombie movies like the new 28 Weeks Later—the incendiary follow-up to 28 Days Later—can be both juicy splatterfests and vehicles for stinging political commentary: It validates my faith in the disreputable. Even film snobs have accepted that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is a spookhouse mirror of social and familial upheaval in the late sixties; and that Bob Clark’s Dead of Night—about the corpse of a Vietnam soldier who returns home to his grief-stricken parents—is at least as evocative as David Rabe’s fine, much-heralded play Sticks and Bones. In 2005, Joe Dante and Sam Hamm collaborated on a film for Showtime’s Masters of Horror series called Homecoming: a bloody madcap satire in which dead vets burst out of their flag-draped coffins (hidden from the public by the Bushies) to cast votes against the Iraq war. Horror films aren’t bound by the wussy tenets of realism or journalistic faux-objectivity. And as for the charge that they are grossly, cynically exploitive: No zombie movie worth its salt isn’t.

28 Weeks Later, directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto), is blistering and nihilistic—a vision to reduce you to a puddle of despair. The prologue plays like the film’s predecessor distilled into a few ferocious minutes: dark, boarded-up farmhouse of survivors; malignant daylight as zombies break through doors and windows; and the rocking, pixelated frenzy of snarls and blazing eyes and showers of blood. These are not Romero’s loping dead, who now seem rather quaint. Their swiftness forces split-second decisions—in this case one in which a weak patriarch, Don (Robert Carlyle), abandons to the monstrous hordes his wife (Catherine McCormack) and a boy she’s shielding, setting a new record for the 600-yard dash in the direction of the river.

Twenty-eight weeks later, the zombie cannibals have exhausted their food supply and died of starvation, Britain is virtually depopulated, and Don resides in a high-rise city-within-a-city—a London “green zone” guarded by the U.S. Army. Life is by no means normal, but the outbreak is contained, and British refugees are starting to trickle back into the country, among them Carlyle’s kids (played by Mackintosh Muggleton—a great Harry Potterish name—and Imogen Poots—another great Harry Potterish name). The brother and sister take their father’s weaselly lies about their mother’s death badly, and—being idiot young people in a horror movie—slip out into the city to inspect their old home.

What happens next is the worst that can happen. This is literally a take-no-prisoners movie, insofar as once the zombie-cannibal contagion menaces the populace again, there’s no time to distinguish among the uninfected and the feral. When the shit hits the helicopter blades, American higher-ups tell their soldiers they “cannot be target-specific.” And so we watch these men—as crazy-scared as everyone else—let loose with bullets and firebombs and chemical weapons. By no means is everyone a zombie or a zombielike combatant. The young’uns end up in a new surrogate family, led by a farsighted military doctor (Rose Byrne) and a Special Forces sniper (Jeremy Renner) unable to pull the trigger on innocents. But unlike the benevolent universe of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds remake, this one offers little hope for survival. Parents go in an instant from protecting their children to trying to munch on them, and no government rescue is forthcoming.

Is the movie a classic? I don’t think so, but it’s terrifying—and a necessary gross-out. Fresnadillo and co-screenwriters Rowan Joffe, E.L. Lavigne, and Jesús Olmo certainly rub our noses in the gory mess of reconstruction under a desperate occupying force: With his whiplash subjective camera, Fresnadillo rouses our fight-or-flight instincts and makes us loathe the brutality. All I could think was, What has our government wrought? Although I suspect that he, along with most of this country and the world, could not be more sickened by the mayhem in Iraq, one could take a pro-surge view and argue that 28 Weeks Later makes the best logistical case for inflicting massive amounts of collateral damage. Zombie cannibalism, Islamofascism—both highly contagious. Alas, the Bush-Cheney administration has proved more adept at spreading the virus than inoculating against it.

If you’re not familiar with the traditions of clowning and the commedia dell’arte, you might peg the highly stylized, rambunctiously funny Belgian clown odyssey L’Iceberg as avant-garde. On the contrary, it is derrière-garde, like a kick in the derrière. It is to die and go to heaven—or at least the North Pole—for. That’s where its heroine, Fiona (Fiona Gordon), treks after she’s accidentally locked overnight in a walk-in freezer in her fast-food restaurant and emerges with a creeping aversion to her suburban rinky-tink house and suburban-zombie spouse, Julien (Dominique Abel). Drawn back—as if by cosmic force—to the freezer in which her emotional compass was upended, Fiona has a mystical vision of a twin-peaked iceberg. And so begins her journey north, in a refrigerator truck, then a busload of oldsters, and finally the lobster boat of a hangdog, deaf-mute sailor, René (Philippe Martz)—an unstable but very sweet lug who becomes the vessel for Fiona’s romantic obsessions.


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