JUAN CARLOS FRESNADILLO & ROSE BYRNE – 28 WEEKS LATER
After the events of the virus-out-of-control smash hit 28 Days Later, England is still screaming with the kinetic sequel 28 WEEKS LATER, directed by Spanish filmmaker JUAN CARLOS FRESNADILLO and starring ROSE BYRNE. BY FILMINK'S DAVID MICHAEL
It's another busy day at Charing Cross Road underground tube station, but the many thousands of people passing through the station are unaware of the horror that stirs nearby. There's the old saying that you're never more than six feet away from a rat in London, but for a week now, travellers have been a set of double doors away from much worse…
Through the doors, littering the empty tube station floor, are the scattered corpses of the infected – the zombie-like mutations of people that have long been dead. Although it looks like the cleaning staff have gone on strike, it's actually the set design for the next scene to be shot for 28 Weeks Later; the sequel to director Danny Boyle's highly successful 28 Days Later, which reaped $45 million in the US alone, from its meagre US$8 million budget. With those kind of figures, it's no surprise that the film merited a sequel. But despite the fact that Danny Boyle hasn't taken the directorial reigns on the follow-up, the team behind the film are adamant that this isn't simply a cash-in.
“Clearly, the original was very successful, and it was unusual for a British title to find such an audience,” says producer Allon Reich. “One of the reasons that it's taken so long is because we didn't want it to just get out there as a DVD title. We spent a lot of time thinking about the story and then trying to get the right director and, in essence, trying to make it a stand-alone movie with its own credibility.”
28 Weeks Later effectively begins six months after the first film ended, with Britain in the throes of an horrific virus that turned its population into a heaving mass of marauding, mutated zombies. An international force led by the US Army has put the British Isles under quarantine, and as the film starts, the blockade is just being lifted. In the first wave of repatriation, two kids are reunited with their father. It's not all joy though, as the family harbours a terrible secret. The infection that threatened to wipe out Britain strikes again, and the US Army protocol to deal with the situation is understandably far from subtle.
While Boyle isn't directing the film – primarily due to the massive post-production demands of his sci-fi opus Sunshine – he very much cast an eye over the sequel in a “godfather capacity”, says Reich. Both Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland act as executive producers on the film, but their role was a little more hands-on than that credit suggests, as they actually helped develop the film and hire a suitable director.
“One of the first film's characteristics is that it's done by a real filmmaker, so that's what we tried to repeat,” adds Reich. The choice of Madrid-based Spanish director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo certainly raised a few eyebrows. After coming to prominence in his homeland for his Oscar nominated short Esposados, the director cemented his potential with his debut feature Intacto, a stirring thriller starring Max Von Sydow. Despite having a couple of years off (during which time he contentedly directed commercials in Spain), Fresnadillo isn't your typical gun-for-hire director.
“To be honest, my first reaction was, 'Why me?'” says Fresnadillo, his English greatly improved since we last spoke at the time of Intacto. “It was an English movie, so why a Spanish director? I met Danny Boyle, and he had loved Intacto, and he told me that they were looking for somebody to bring a new take to this universe.”
But this was no done deal. Fresnadillo wasn't totally enamoured with the script that he was presented with. “When I read the screenplay, I didn't really find too much that I could personally introduce to its world,” reflects the director, in-between shooting scenes. “The only thing I saw in that version was a possible story about a family within the film's universe. That was the only thing that I saw potential in – the story of the family in the original version finished in almost the first act.”
Fresnadillo admits that he was also a little wary at first about directing a genre sequel, but amping up the family angle eased his aversion. “I proposed that it should be a story of this father and his kids trying to start over again in this world. The new concept was that the family has a problem with the loss of the mother. So, it's like a metaphor – inside of this family, the virus is already there.”
After his proposal to rewrite the script was accepted, Fresnadillo went away with his collaborators and reworked it over a period of a year. Alex Garland (who penned the first film) then helped capture the nuances when the new screenplay was translated from Spanish back to English. The director admits that the film is now “totally different from its initial form”, which was simply about the survivors of the infection.
Shot in16mm and featuring hand-held cameras, there's a realistic feel to 28 Weeks Later, which adds to the film's tension and scares. “The aim is to pull it from the genre to a more documentary feel,” says Fresnadillo. “The documentary feel is something that I like. It helps the horror to be extreme, but also real. My aim was to create a world that is very close to you, and that you can almost smell.”
The consensus of the filmmakers is that in relation to the first film, 28 Weeks Later is like “Aliens to Alien”. There's a lot of credence to the statement when you see Australian actress Rose Byrne doing her best Ripley impression, wielding a massive machine gun while guiding two petrified kids down the tube station's escalator into the unknown darkness.
It's Byrne's second film in quick succession with Danny Boyle's DNA productions, who were also behind Sunshine, not to mention 28 Days Later (which starred Byrne's Sunshine co-star Cillian Murphy). It was a late script alteration and resulting change in direction for the film that called for Rose Byrne's inclusion. “I got this eleventh hour call; I was leaving on Friday to film on Monday,” says Byrne, who plays a US Army medical officer with a crisis of conscience. “This is what they did to me on Sunshine as well! They changed direction and called me in. So I told them, 'What's the next job? Can you give me a little more notice next time?'”
Despite the short notice, she managed to get a bit of preparation in for the role, which involves lots of “running around, zombies, screaming, jumping, and guns,” according to the actress. “I had to work on my arms a bit to carry the guns,” laughs Byrne. “We had military people in to help with the guns, and I also met with a nurse to get the medical stuff down. Plus, I did a bit of reading about females in the army.” She also took to watching a few flicks in the genre. “I watched 28 Days Later again, which I'd already seen. I watched Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, and I watched a few female action heroes again – like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens – to get that side of things down.”
For Byrne, the film definitely marks a new dimension in her career, after having resisted doing any typical Hollywood horror flicks. “I was totally up for a zombie type of film,” says Byrne of the attraction. “I've read scripts for a lot of horror films in LA and I understand why the genre is hugely successful. But this is a really smart story and a good, believable idea. Just what would happen in a post-apocalyptic world with a disease like this?”