28 Days Later
Release date: June 27, 2003
Director: Danny Boyle
Bindu De Stoppani,
Naomie Harris and
28 Days Later is a serious attempt to resurrect the British horror movie and to wrestle the zombie genre away from the realms of comedy, thanks to Danny Boyle’s trademark visual flair and a perfect script from Alex Garland, it largely succeeds. Sure, it lacks the poster-campaign characters like the ones of Trainspotting and Shallow Grave, but more than makes up for it in a vivid depiction of apocalyptic England happily married to plenty of blood.
The backdrop is perhaps particularly great in the wake of SARS. The movie opens with a band of radical animal activists invading a science lab to free some monkeys, unfortunately the animals that are released carry the most deadly virus man has ever known…28 days later Jim awakens in a mysteriously empty hospital. He stumbles out dazed, and indeed confused, onto the streets of London and finds it apparently void of people. But when the sun goes down figures do begin to emerge, wild-eyed and hungry for blood – the virus, named ‘Rage’, having triggered some serious complexion issues in the country’s population. with almost no hope Jim happens across a few people and together they atry to make it to an apparent army base in Manchester, having to use all their resourcefulness and wits to survive.
Garland’s books - The Beach and The Tesseract both had a lot of cinematic immediacy about them and, after adapting The Beach for a film he appears to have embraced the movie form completely. Garland’s has definetely studied zombie flicks and he naturally draws in particular from George R Romero’s Night of the Living Dead trilogy. Perhaps Garland hasn’t completely left his literary roots either, as the movie is also somewhat similar to novels The Fog by James Herbert (creepy fog turns British people into manic zombies) and John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids (meteor shower turns humans blind and plants into gruesome killers). But the movie makes a fair stab of bringing it up to date with a chilling depiction of how unprepared Britain is for catastrophe and showing the zombie virus invading all backgrounds and barriers. The themes of the film are pretty clear – drawing parallels between the army and the zombies and suggesting the protagonists’ humanity (love, compassion, wit etc) is their key to survival. But while it maybe bleak (probably not as bleak as Night of the Living Dead) this isn’t about existential ponderings on the human condition but rather about gory fun.
Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris are the main attractions of the movie, but their characters aren’t very memorable. This ends up increasing the feeling of isolation that carries the movie however, and Christopher Ecclestone appears halfway through who helpfully manages to stay on the good side of shaping things up.
It is Danny Boyle’s energetic style that brings this horror movie alive. Shooting on digital video gives 28 days later a grainy, natural kind of feeling maybe recalling the way the matter-of-fact opening scene of Night of the Living Dead made it that much more disturbing. Yet the first scenes in particular still manage to be eerily stunning in exploring an empty, wrecked London shot with disquieting camera angles. Boyle continues to pile on memorable images – zombies fighting over shopping trolley barricades at the bottom of a grim tenement block, a scary confrontation with a zombie child in a cafe and more importantly keeps the tension and shocks in abundance. The baby-on-the-ceiling scene from Trainspotting perhaps suggested Boyle’s speciality for horror, and the movie more than delivers.
Unfortunately, the second half of 28 Days Later doesn’t quite live up to the thrilling first. It builds to its gory climax in a similar way to The Beach but like The Beach it doesn’t quite ring true. Moreover it seems a little too much to wheel on the army as bad guys when there’s a country full of zombies to deal with. Thankfully the tension is good enough that this doesn’t dampen the film too much and with a few bloody sequences before the end it doesn’t matter too much if the film doesn’t descend into the mass zombie killing of other films.
The bottom line is that 28 Days Later is a flawed but definetely enjoyable film that proves there’s no need for the Brittish horror movies to lay dormant.
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