DVD Release Date:  October 9, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: May 11, 2007
Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, language and some sexuality/nudity)
Genre: Horror
Run Time: 99 min.
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Actors: Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Mackintosh Muggleton, Imogen Poots, Emily Beecham, Jeremy Renner, Idris Elba

Is the moral horror movie back?

Many well-known horror films deal with unexplained evil, often meted out upon those who have done wrong. Think of Psycho, from 1969, with its infamous shower murder of a woman who stole money from her employer and is engaged in a romantic dalliance. Her death was a heinous crime, but in director Alfred Hitchcock’s moral universe—informed by his Catholicism—moral guilt sometimes carried the ultimate price.

By the 1980s, horror film morality became predictable and convenient for purveyors of schlocky “slasher” films, in which oversexed teenagers ended up as victims of Jason Voorhees (the hockey-mask wearing killer of the Friday the 13th series) or Freddy Krueger (from the Nightmare on Elm St. series). These films did not seriously explore the moral dimension of character decisions; characters were easily dispatched pawns in the mad games of the series’ iconic killers.

Director Danny Boyle’s terrifying vision of societal decay and survival of the fittest reinvigorated the horror genre in 2003 with 28 Days Later,  a bleak portrait of mankind’s future that tapped into post-9/11 dread. In the face of a rapidly spreading infection—a “rage virus” that turned humans into bloodthirsty crazies within seconds—would civilization be able to confront its darkest hour, and face down a menace that showed no mercy?

28 Weeks Later, a sequel directed and co-written by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Boyle serves as an executive producer), introduces a stronger family dynamic than its predecessor. A band of survivors holed up in a farmhouse includes husband, Don (Robert Carlyle) and wife, Alice(Catherine McCormick), whose children are in a safer place, far away. The arrival at the farm of a terrified young boy, on the run from zombies, triggers maternal instincts in the mother, but her protective nature can’t shield her against the attack on the survivors by the raging zombies. Don, in a panic, runs from his wife and flees the attack, even as she screams for him to come to her aid. He succeeds in eluding the attackers and surviving another day.

With the arrival of the U.S. army and U.N. forces who secure the British Isles and begin rebuilding, Don’s children are returned to him. He informs them that their mother is dead, but lies about his own cowardice in running away from the scene of the attack. His attempts to rebuild his relationship with his children suffers a setback when they break free from their safe area and return to the family home, where the son discovers his mother, still alive. She’s been infected, but is not exhibiting the crazed symptoms of other infected persons.

Believing she may have an immunity against the infection, and that her children also may be immune, armed forces capture her and detain her for further study. Their safe quarters are shattered, however, when Don enters Alice’s controlled environment to apologize for failing her. He becomes infected, with typical results: He hunts down those who appear to be untainted by the virus, including his own children. Even more dire consequences flow from Don’s transgression, as the outbreak creates mayhem, and the military peacekeepers crack down in ways that echo reported atrocities from the Iraq conflict and earlier wars. These scenes are powerfully unsettling, showing us wartime horrors we don’t expect to see in a summer “popcorn movie.”