28 DAYS LATER
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Noah Huntley, Christopher Eccleston
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence and gore, language and nudity)
Running Time: 1:52
Release Date: 6/27/03
Review by Mark Dujsik
Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later is an indictment of a world gone mad—mad with rage, fear, and power—the zeal that has created and maintained it, and the apathy that has resulted. It's about that thin line between passion and anger. It's a horror movie that dares to be frightening in a way that horror movies forgot to be a long time ago. Today, it's all about making an audience jump in their seats. That's child's play compared to something like this. Any simultaneous combination of a screeching noise and a creature popping out from around a corner and a flash of gore can elicit a moment of shock, but it takes patience and skill to go beyond that and actually make us take a deeper look at ourselves and the society in which we live. This is a film of mood, atmosphere, and ideas. It contains monsters that would best be called zombies if not for the fact that they aren't the living dead (well, not literally at least), they don't feed on brains and flesh, and they're called "Infecteds" instead of zombies. They're primal, living only to spread the virus that causes them to be as they are. What's fascinating about the film is that the human characters aren't much more advanced, also living for only one reason: survival.
A trio of animal activists breaks into a primate research facility where inhumane experiments are being conducted. Before they can set the animals free, a scientist discovers them and warns them not to touch the monkeys. They are infected, he declares, with "rage," a statement of such grand ridiculousness stated so matter-of-factly that it sets the tone just right. Do they listen? Of course not, and soon one of the activists finds herself attack by a monkey and, almost immediately after, vomiting blood and gore profusely. Twenty-eight days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in a hospital. He leaves his room, stumbles around the building, and finds no one. In fact, it seems all of London is abandoned. An extended sequence of long, unbroken shots follows, which allows us to take in the isolation and dread of such a scenario. His roaming brings him to a church, full of corpses, but something isn't right. Some of them seem to be moving. A pounding sound fills the building, and a priest whose entire body seems to be undergoing spasms comes at him. He escapes and runs into a pair of normal people who save him from his pursuers.
They're Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), and they have some unpleasant news for Jim once they reach the sanctuary of a convenience store. A virus has infected London, the rest of the United Kingdom, and, by some reports, has even reached Paris and New York. For all anyone knows, the entire planet may be overrun with Infecteds. What they do know is that most people are dead or infected. To be safe, it's best to travel as a group and only during the day, unless you absolutely have to. The last thing you want is to run into an Infected alone. They're ruthless creatures, with grotesque bright red eyes and decaying skin. If you see one, it's almost certain there are more that will follow. They move quickly and attack mercilessly. If their blood or saliva enters your bloodstream, it's only a matter of ten to twenty seconds before you become infected yourself. While that may seem a rare thing to happen, these monsters do project blood, and in the excitement of fighting off and killing Infecteds, it is possible that their blood will find its way into a wound or your mouth. The good news is that it's fairly easy to kill Infecteds (they are human after all), but the bad news is that they have an overwhelming advantage in numbers.
This is all revealed in the first of three acts, which progressively get better as the film continues. The first act consists of the setup, in which we get a detailed explanation of the creatures, meet the central characters, and start to understand the full extent of this post-apocalyptic England. The second act expands on it, giving us two new characters, a new philosophy behind life in this world, and an extended portrait of the devastation. The new characters are Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns), a father and daughter who give even the incredibly cynical Selena a reason to think that perhaps survival isn't all there is to life among the ruins. Maybe there is time and need for something more. The group travels during this act, moving from urban decay to luscious, untouched nature, where uninfected horses run free and the group is able to sleep undisturbed for a night, and finally to a barricade outside of Manchester, where it seems a group of people have discovered an answer for the virus. The final act, in which they arrive at a makeshift military outpost run by a determined Major West (Christopher Eccleston), is the film's best. Here screenwriter Alex Garland plays with expectations and explores the concept that perhaps there's not too much difference between the infected and the normal, and the monsters turn from enemies into unknowing helpers of sorts.
Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle have shot the film on digital video, a controversial choice considering the format's grainy resolution and lack of depth, but I think it's the right choice. It gives the film a sense of urgency and immediacy, and the flatness of the images works in its favor more often than not, making this world one of inherent deterioration. The special effects also turn out looking great in this format. Note the convincing explosion of a gas station fairly early on and a devastating shot of Manchester ablaze and irreparable as the travelers arrive there. The creatures are also startlingly realized, and the effects that make them believable blend almost seamlessly in DV. The style also serves as an antithesis to the film's epilogue, which is, admittedly, out of place. Changing the look and tone of the film entirely, the finale is either optimistic or ironic—a typical Hollywood ending or a jab at the typical Hollywood ending.
Either way, it doesn't fit in with what's come before it and is an unfortunate way to end 28 Days Later. Until then, the film is unrelenting and upfront with its pessimism and plays the material straightforward with no real sense of irony. The Infecteds may be scary, but they are only a magnification of our own potential for animalistic behavior. They are us, and we are them.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.