How do you follow up a sophisticated splatter-fest that took millions of pounds and, significantly, tens of millions of dollars at the box office? If you’re smart, you ignore the unwritten Hollywood rule that dictates that the original must be all but replicated. Instead you look to one of the very few precedents that have seen a sequel do justice to or even improve on the first film. This is what the team behind 28 Days Later did and the result is the striking, exhausting, extremely violent 28 Weeks Later.
The model for the screenwriters was clearly Aliens, the idea being to retain the core idea but up the death toll by recruiting into the story a bunch of trigger-happy American soldiers, here keeping a vigilant eye on quarantined Brits corralled into the safe “green zone” that is the Isle of Dogs.
The film begins far away from this chaos with a quite dazzling prologue that establishes the troubled character of Don (Robert Carlyle), who is holed up in a remote country house with his wife and a few other survivors seeking refuge from the flesh-eating plague-victims.
This sequence soon explodes into a head-spinning orgy of violence, leaving Don alone, racked with guilt and desperate to catch up with his two children, who were handily abroad when the virus struck. The reunion allows some exposition for the characters and some welcome repose for the audience, but it is, of course, not to last. Once the pace picks up again it barely relents as the story turns into a protracted chase across a near-deserted London.
The script keeps things simple, inevitably including but sensibly not overplaying the story’s echoes of contemporary events – it is hard to think of a horror film that makes more of the notions of collateral damage or friendly fire. The cinematography, editing and direction, the last courtesy of Intacto’s Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, are all exemplary. If it’s a recommendation to say that a film makes you alternately anxious and terrified and leaves you feeling exhausted and slightly nauseous, 28 Weeks Later is heartily recommended.
On the evidence of his feature debut The Night of the Sunflowers, it won’t be long before some discerning, well-heeled Hollywood producer calls on Jorge Sánchez-Cabezudo to become the latest Hispanic director to infuse some lucrative franchise with his distinctive vision. There’s nothing flashy about this leisurely paced thriller, but it is almost insidiously gripping and boasts a narrative structure that is, if not quite original, intriguing and inventive.
The action starts simply enough with a news report of a rape and murder, the victim being retrieved from a field of sunflowers on the edge of a small, remote Spanish village. From there, with nods to various films, most obviously Rashomon, the story develops in a succession of discrete chapters, introducing us first to the prime suspect and then to the other central characters. The film evolves, in ways that are always logical but not always predictable. Whether or not he is lured away from his native Spain, Sánchez-Cabezudo looks like a filmmaker to watch.
Among the week’s other releases are three very different films, all deeply flawed but each dealing with intense, deeply problematic friendships between men.
The most disappointing, if only because it has the most impressive pedigree, is Goodbye Bafana, an account of the long relationship between Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert, on mediocre form) and his chief jailer James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes, who nails the accent but still doesn’t convince you he is a working- class South African country boy).
The story is directed unflamboyantly, in fact rather flatly, by Bille August, and although based on documented incidents it is striking how little of this has the air of authenticity. It is, if nothing else, disconcerting that neither of the central characters can pronounce the word “apartheid”.
There is at least the germ of an idea lurking in the depths of Patrice Leconte’s dreary comedy My Best Friend. In the course of some clunky plotting, the emotionally arid antiques dealer François (Daniel Auteuil) is compelled to target the amiable, borderline autistic taxi driver Bruno (Dany Boon) to fill the role of his best friend. Although mercifully short, this film is at times actively embarrassing, and much attention will need to be paid to sorting out its problems when, as it almost inevitably will, this comes to be transformed into a high-concept Hollywood comedy.
For much of its first half, Like Minds is a thriller of some promise, with clinical psychologist Sally (Toni Collette) called in to try to get inside the head of Alex (Eddie Tremayne), a 17-year-old public schoolboy accused of murdering his fellow student and spiritual twin Nigel (Tom Sturridge). But as the story descends inexorably into The Da Vinci Code territory, with masses of guff involving Cathars, Knights Templar and ancient bloodlines, it becomes ever less interesting before completely unravelling in the climactic scenes.
For a more satisfying story of posh young men wilfully immersing themselves in bloody violence, there is Stevan Riley’s amusing if rather one-paced documentary Blue Blood, in which we are introduced to trainer Des and his charges, a half-dozen young Oxford students determined to represent their university in the annual varsity boxing match.
The dismal thriller Straightheads, released a couple of weeks back, looked like being the worst film of Danny Dyer’s career, until the witless comedy thriller The All Together comes along to prove that it wasn’t even the worst Danny Dyer film of the month.
Those after an antidote to all this should urgently seek out a screening of Gillo Pontecorvo’s masterpiece of cinéma vérité The Battle of Algiers.
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