28 Days Later

28 Days Later

UK/USA/Netherlands, 2002. Rated R. 112 minutes.

Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Huntley
Writer: Alex Garland
Music: John Murphy
Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle
Producer: Andrew Macdonald
Director: Danny Boyle


Grade: B Review by Carlo Cavagna

Ghosts of Mars, Resident Evil—are zombie movies becoming popular again? Or have they never gone away, maintaining a devoted cult following ever since George A. Romero launched the genre more than thirty years ago with Night of the Living Dead? Personally, I don't like them. They're all pretty similar, beginning with somebody doing something stupid that tampers with the natural order of things, releasing the shambling, man-eating corpses into the world of the living. As with other horror/thrillers, the condition is always highly infectious, so that the heroes—facing overwhelming odds, of course—are always in danger of becoming monsters and turning against their comrades. Some of them inevitably do. Beyond that, they're ninety minutes to two hours of blood, gore, and mayhem.

Now it's Trainspotting's Danny Boyle's turn to take a crack at the genre with 28 Days Later. In this case, the zombies are not actually zombies, even though they may as well be. Apart from the fact that they are much, much faster, they look and act like zombies, and are just as contagious. They are people infected with a laboratory-developed virus called—get this—Rage. That's right, some misguided fools have taken rage and distilled it to a tangible essence. These are some pissed off pseudo-zombies. Why they don't just rip each other to shreds, if they're so angry, is beyond my comprehension, but if you're going to get all logical about stuff like that, you should skip the movie entirely.

Silly as it sounds, 28 Days Later does manage to be the best zombie film I've ever seen. Of course, that's kind of like saying the French are the best third-rate engineers in the world, as Arthur C. Clarke wrote in Childhood's End. It doesn't mean the film is a masterpiece, but it does work, and surprisingly well.

This is not a splatter movie per se, though there is enough splatter to satisfy fans of cult horror and make others look away. The drooling, slathering creatures aren't as important to Boyle as the human elements of his story. How would a real person react if he woke up in a hospital bed to find all London trashed and deserted (almost) save for himself? What would it take to survive under those conditions? What kind of bonds do people form under such extreme conditions? What happens to male/female relations? If someone you love becomes infected and you have twenty seconds to kill him, what do you do? Cillian Murphy in 28 DAYS LATERDespite the preposterous premise, these are authentically human characters. You believe their responses and behavior. It helps that the actors, mostly unknowns, perform credibly.

The Enraged are symbolic (duh), being an extreme manifestation of an emotion that resides within us all. Take, for example, the chimpanzees being infected with "rage" at the beginning of the film, ostensibly so that scientists can find a cure for this enduring and destructive foible. As part of the experiment, the chimps are strapped to chairs and forced to watch monitors of human destruction and violence. Yes, the rage-afflicted zombie substitutes are scary. But 28 Days Later is even more frightening for what human beings end up doing to one another. In the end, most are no different from the monsters who hunt them.

Unlike the The Beach, which boasted a large budget and pristine picture quality, Boyle has made 28 Days Later as a low-budget, independent film. It is filmed in what appears to be digital video, and the picture quality is for shit, particularly the color definition. Boyle does seems aware that his movie looks like crap, even substituting what seems to be an Impressionist painting of a field for an actual field, with a real automobile driving along the top of it, on the horizon line. If photographers can become famous for their grainy, low-resolution images, then, you might ask, why can't those images be strung together in a live-action movie?

Given the post-apocalyptic nature of the film, you could argue that Boyle's visual style works to a point. He has created a grungy look, and dropped frames out during editing of the action sequences to create the accelerated effect we saw in Gladiator. He occasionally shoots from the perspective of the Enraged, similar to Spielberg in Jaws, which is effective. But it seems to me that no matter how you defend it, a crappy looking film is still a crappy looking film. At least Boyle remains a director with a good sense of music, as he demonstrated in The Beach and Trainspotting—in this case, heavily electronic music, at times atmospheric and other times pulsating.

28 Days Later has been released in theaters in the United Kingdom, and is doing well, but it is still waiting for U.S. distribution, probably because Boyle's supposedly promising career went into a tailspin after Trainspotting. 28 Days Later is not good enough to put him back on the "It" list of directors, but it might earn him another shot at the big time. In the meantime, 28 Days Later should make it at least to a video release in the States, and is far more worthy of your time than Milla Jovovich's laughable fighting machine in some threatened Resident Evil sequel. [Ed. note—This film obtained U.S. distribution and was released in June 2003.]

Review © December 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images 2002 Fox and its related entities. All Rights Reserved.

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