Films

Published on May 14th, 2007 | by Hans Fruck

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28 Weeks Later + Lucky You

28 WEEKS LATER – general release

In 28 Days Later (2002), a Danny Boyle–Alex Garland collaboration, Britain is laid waste by a ‘rage’ virus. Victims of the virus turn into highly contagious berserkers. These ragers rapidly, and gruesomely, depopulate the country. The sequel resumes this story – albeit with a different set of characters – 28 weeks after the initial outbreak. Britain is slowly rebuilding. Small pockets of survivors cower in safe houses while a dwindling number of ragers roam the countryside. Eventually, survivors trickle into a fortified enclave in London called, cough, the ‘Green Zone’. It’s a safe haven bristling with weaponry and, ahem, an occupying US army.

Any zombie-film afficionado will recognise this set-up (hairsplitters will note that they’re not technically zombies). The breakdown of law and order; the remorseless, irrational foe; the sudden hardscrabble fight for survival among those normally insulated from fear and danger – it’s all here in 28 Weeks Later. But where 28 Weeks Later distinguishes itself is in its pitiless, pitch-black sensibility.

A memorably hardhearted opening sequence introduces husband and wife Don (Robert Carlyle) and Alice (Catherine McCormack). They’re holed up in a bolthole somewhere in the English countryside with a handful of other survivors. Their faces are careworn, deeply etched with dread and worry. At least, they reassure each other, their two children were abroad when the outbreak took place. Alice and Don prepare a dinner in a strained facsimile of domesticity. But no sooner have they sat down around the dinner table than a child starts pounding on the barricaded front door, pleading to be let in.

This sequence plays out with unquestionable, appalling brilliance. With fast edits, ear-piercing audio, and yawing camera, Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo contrives a terrifying first-person point of view for his audience. Much as Zach Snyder does in the credit sequence of Dawn of the Dead, Fresnadillo assaults your senses with extreme car-crash close-ups of the ragers. I swear, these assaults – all bloody rictus, flailing limbs, bared teeth, and bloodcurdling shrieking – are enough to push you six inches back into your seat. Cannily, Fresnadillo doesn’t overdo it, never letting you see the ragers for long enough to normalise them, preferring instead to unbalance you with short, grisly blasts. Despite the technical brilliance of this opening sequence, it’s the all-too-human frailties of the characters that elevates it from well-turned-out shlock into gruesome virtuosity.

Zombie films are always fascinating for the way they use zombies as proxies for the enemy du jour – whether it be communists, terrorists, or consumerists. And like its predecessors, 28 Weeks Later makes the mandatory political allusions. In this case, they’re about a US force occupying foreign soil to first quell a contagion then rebuild a country, only to find that the occupation spirals rapidly out control. The points of comparison are clear but not belaboured. After all, whatever their political views, Garland and Fresnadillo’s brief is horror not politics. They aim to leave their audience scared shitless, not with a degree in political science. (And speaking for myself, they succeeded.)

In between all the carnage, Fresnodillo lavishes the film with arty flourishes. Well-timed cutaways and swooping cameras change-up the tempo and capture the empty urban landscape. The story’s gleeful, and most un-Hollywood-like, disregard for the sanctity of the family and nascent love interest shocks and refreshes. Even for a zombie flick, this film is relentlessly horrifying and horrifyingly relentless.

–Hans Fruck

"Squirrel!"

“Squirrel!”

LUCKY YOU – general release

In the opening scene of Lucky You, Huckleberry Cheever (Eric Bana) enters a pawn shop in Las Vegas, penniless. He has a digital camera to sell and he needs three hundred dollars for it, but the wizened old duck behind the counter already has three digital cameras and she’s not offering much. Huck makes a pitch – if she adjusts the prices of the three she already has so that one is cheaper and one more expensive, his camera will sell faster. His camera has a box and can be bought as a present. “All of my cameras have boxes,” she grins, but Huck has her number. He’s a Vegas cowboy, a professional poker player, and he knows how to read people. But as we discover, there’s more to human relationships that having the upper hand: Huck Cheever doesn’t know how to love.

Enter Billie Offer (Drew Barrymore), a guileless girly come to the shimmering city for her own stab at fame and fortune, singing jazz tunes at Dino’s, the last neighbourhood bar in town. Billie knows how to read people, just like Huck, but she uses her powers for good instead of gambling. They meet by chance on Billie’s first night in town, when Huck is down on his luck and Billie has wallet full of carefully saved dollars just asking to be lifted. Huck takes a shine to Billie’s big-haired innocence, but World Championship Poker is about to begin and he needs to raise $10,000 in entry fees quick-smart.

Lurking in the background of their faltering romance is LC Cheever (Robert Duvall), three-time World Champion and lost father to our solitary hero, who heads a cast of lovable poker-playing rogues. Huck despises his father for selling his mother out on a bad bet, but he is impervious to their many and obvious similarities. He doesn’t like his dad, but he seems determined to be exactly like him, and as the Championships begin, poor sweet Billie is offered up as the maternal sacrifice.

That director Curtis Hanson made LA Confidential, Wonderboys and the oddly compelling Eminem vehicle 8 Mile seems a happy accident for him, as his two films since have been unmitigated disasters. The seemingly interminable boredom of In Her Shoes is actually trumped here by a film of such dire dialogue and dull romance that the easy-come charisma of casino life is all but sucked into the void. Eric Bana, for his many thespian charms, is a poor fit for a handsome scoundrel. He plays his role in the world of poker like a choirboy lost, missing completely the adventurous edge that the name Huck implies. Drew Barrymore’s great crime here is less her interpretation than her decision to take on the role as a painfully two-dimensional prop in Huck’s life lessons (and her singing, which hurts).

On the upside, Lucky You is occasionally redeemed by the technical verisimilitude of the poker jargon. It was made to capitalise on the growing profile of World Championship Poker, following the rise in popularity of online poker, and the talk around the table sounds legit. But all that fancy footwork when the cards are being dealt can’t sustain an entire, and otherwise awful, film.

–Simone Ubaldi


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