There's a Point of No Allegorical Return in the new armrest-gouger, 28 Weeks Later. A cadre of elite American snipers, perched on top of high rises in quarantined, depopulated and soon-to-be recolonized London, have their telescopic rifles trained on civilians running in panicked terror from infecteds. (For those who never saw 28 Days Later, infecteds are red-eyeballed blood-vomiting ghouls who feast on human flesh and dart about like coked-up wraiths. They can be dispatched by your standard massive head shot. Infecteds are not zombies exactly, but might as well be.) The point I refer to comes when the snipers, who have been squinting for good targets in the crowd, trying desperately to distinguish between civilians and infecteds, are told to stop making a distinction, that "everything on the ground is a target." They've gone to Code Red and thus begins a grimmer slaughter. The next couple of minutes are pure snuff film, zombies and humans alike exploding in blood showers, the jerky, grainy camera work not helping us to identify who's friend or foe. It's nauseating, yet utterly compelling. The snipers, who are in communication with each other through head-mikes, either whoop it up as if they're shooting squirrels back home, or deplore the situation. One of them mutters between rounds, "Oh, man, this is FUBAR." Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. The irony of the line is that the movie, for me, came into sharp relief at that moment. It was fucked-up into recognition. Mind you, the film drops heavy hints before. The main military outpost in post-viral-apocalyptic London is called the Green Zone.
Like the terrific Children of Men and bluntly effective Land of the Dead, 28 Weeks Later shows again that one of the most effective ways that cinema can process current events is through the prism of science fiction and grotesque horror. Of course, I go to horror movies for cheap thrills and gore; meaning is usually secondary. Then again, a counterargument could be made that 28 Weeks Later is mere escapism posing as allegorical commentary. And isn't it implicitly racist to interpret a movie about flesh-eating zombies as a metaphor for Iraq? Okay, so it's not about Iraq, because that would be dehumanizing insurgents, who may be massacring their own people, but are still human, right? Maybe the infecteds are actually those Brits who subscribe to American neocon foreign policy. The ideology that permits military hegemony in the name of commodified freedom dissemination is the "Rage" virus that spreads so quickly from person to person.. No. That's not it. Ah, what a tricky business this allegorizing can be.
But if you like a good gory shocker, this one is worth your time. Plus the menacing score by John Murphy, vaguely reminiscent of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, keeps you in a state of jaw-clenched tension.
Conversely, much as I like escapism in theater, I wouldn't mind if my favorite medium used a more documentarian or journalistic approach to current events. The estimable Tricycle Theatre in London presents a dramatized inquest into possible war crimes committed by Tony Blair. Dear Culture Project and/or Public Theater: Steal this idea and present it this fall!