By Scott Martin
28 Days Later, UK, 2002
Directed by Danny Boyle
First things first: this isn’t a zombie movie. It’s a movie about people who become infected with a virus, and they look and act like zombies. Why isn’t it a zombie movie? Because, for the most part, that’s too silly for such a deadly serious story. Danny Boyle’s take on the zombie/post-apocalyptic genre proves to be the best of its kind, and it doesn’t have time for such fruitless entertainment. It’s here to thrill and make our hearts race, and break from time to time, and it does, probably because it’s not a zombie movie. Those have a tendency to not be that scary, but being infected and essentially made into an animalistic killing machine? That’s something to worry about for two hours, and, while this isn’t a zombie movie, it certainly provided a template for far too many to follow. With its fast-as-lightening “undead” and rapid camera movements, this film inspired the kick-ass fast zombies of Zack Snyder’s underrated masterpiece Dawn of the Dead (2004).
28 Days Later … touches on several political and humanist themes. A virus is developed in a primate research lab that sends the human body into a fit of rage, corrupting the immune system and the brain, only to turn its victim into a living “zombie.” An animal rights group breaks into the lab in the middle of the night and accidentally releases the virus. No good deed will ever go unpunished. 28 days later, a man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital with no memory of what happened the night before, in a set-up for what might be the scariest Hangover movie yet; there’s no tiger in the bathroom, only the empty streets of Britain and random pools of blood as his clues.
He wanders into the wrong part of town, to a church (go figure), is attacked by the un-living creatures and saved by Selena (Naomie Harris) and her associate, Mark (Noah Huntley). They explain that London is essentially no more, and that they’re left only because they survive. That makes sense; Jim gets it. He also gets that if he slows them down, they won’t save him again, and Selena further makes sure he understands that if he’s bitten and infected, she’ll kill him in a heartbeat. He gets that, too. They continue on until they meet a family, or what’s left of it: a teenage girl named Hannah (Megan Burns) and her father, Frank (Brendan Gleeson). Thankfully, the film doesn’t involve them searching for a cure. No one is a doctor, and no one has a bright idea. They know it’s best to run and survive as long as possible. They do, however, search for a group of survivors who can help them. The film involves that search, and involves us in it beautifully.
Jim has a familiar rhetorical shift: when he wakes up he’s timid and frightened, but once he gets into the heat of the battle and teams up with other survivors, he reveals himself to be someone of immense cool and extreme calm. Murphy is a skilled actor, and it shows. Jim feels like a frightened frat boy, someone straight out of college suddenly facing the real world and realizing how different it is than expected. Of course, the real world doesn’t have “zombies,” but there you go. The performance that really got me, though (and I mean deep in my gut), was Brendan Gleeson. So full of life, and so heartbreaking. He’s a remarkable actor, and can command the screen away from anyone he chooses.
Danny Boyle has always had a very firm hold on his vision for his films, and his style has become very easy to recognize. Most of the visual tricks that he employs here can be found in The Beach (2000), Millions (2004), or even Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The only complaint I have about this film is its early use of the score; if the last thirty minutes had been the only part of the film to contain music, I would have no complaint, but I think it dragged down the atmosphere to use it so early on.
All in all, it’s an incredibly enjoyable film with excellent performances and superb direction, and definitely a must-see for any horror film fan.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com