Danny Boyle’s "28 Days Later” is a stunning film; literally resurrecting the tired zombie genre from its grave. Shot on video, the movie has a low-budget feel that delivers on a gritty level, making even the sunniest scenes appear dark as there always seems to be a gloomy overcast.
After a brief but very effective scene that introduces us to a mysterious, rapidly spreading virus, the film opens with Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up in a hospital bed only to find the place deserted. We later learn his presence in the hospital resulted from a car accident that occurred 28 days ago while he was working his route as a bicycle messenger. He gets out of bed and wanders onto the London streets where it appears everyone has vanished. The sequence that follows is beautifully shot and well choreographed. Picking up old newspapers he learns of the virus that has spread, causing the massive evacuation of London. Store walls are littered with “missing persons” ads, which serves as an awful reminder of that September 11th morning, when people did the same thing after the towers crumbled.
Jim eventually encounters Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), two survivors who have somehow managed to avoid the infection surviving off of Pepsi and unopened junk food. They explain everything to Jim which gives us a better understanding of the virus. It spreads quickly from person to person. Once a person becomes infected, it only takes about 20 seconds for the virus to completely control its new host. As Selena explains, once a person is bitten or even gets infected blood in his or her mouth, that person must be killed immediately. Selena tells Jim she will kill him in a heartbeat if he contracts the virus.
After a series of adventures take place, including some encounters with infected zombies, the group eventually finds two other survivors: Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his teenage daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). The welcoming father and his shy daughter use their hand-cranked radio from their barricaded apartment to pick up a radio broadcast from an Army unit inside of Manchester. The broadcast sounds suspicious, as a creepy unknown voice calls out for all survivors to find them where they will be free from the outbreak.
I’ll take a moment to describe the infected zombies. It’s obvious that this low-budget film couldn’t afford state-of-the-art special effects when making the zombies, but that doesn’t mean Boyle wouldn’t have used this low-budget style anyway. The infected people look normal with the exception of the facial deformity and their vocal limitation to grunting and howling. Fans of classic zombie films recall that most living-dead creatures moved at a crawling pace. In "28 Days Later," they move at lightning speeds, often crashing through windows and jumping out of piles of bodies to catch their prey.
Up until this point, the film is a wonderful and suspenseful ride. The scenery is haunting and the score by John Murphy adds to the suspense. But let me warn you and say that you shouldn’t expect "28 Days Later” to be “scary as hell” as the film gleefully advertises in its trailers. While everyone has a different suspense tolerance level, I doubt many people will be startled by this movie. In comparison to “The Ring,” this film is “Finding Nemo” as far a scares go. "28 Days Later” is suspenseful, especially during the tunnel chase scene, but it’s not so frightening that it’ll make you jump out of your seat. In fact, the row in front of me at the theater was completely occupied by young teenage girls, and not one of them let out a yelp the way so many girls usually do while watching horror movies. Sure, the sight of vomiting and decaying bodies made some of them shield their eyes, but no one lost control of their popcorn bag.
Now back to the story. After the first survivors that we meet encounter the father and daughter, they all decide to find the Army unit as advertised in the broadcast. The trip will require the group to travel in Frank’s taxi across London and through Manchester to find the unit, with several obstacles in their path.
I especially enjoyed the scene when the group decides to stop for the night near a lake and some rolling hills. Unable to sleep, Jim learns that Selena keeps a cache of Valium with her that aids her tension. When Hannah asks her father for permission to consume a dose, he understandably says no until Jim tells him to “let her live a little.”
This leads up to the third act of the film which slowly travels downhill compared to the first two exciting acts. We are taken to an Army base and we meet Maj. Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) and his small band of uninfected soldiers. While everything appears safe here, you’ll know there’s something suspicious going on, and when that revelation is made, our heroes will find themselves in a horrifying situation; not entirely because of the infected zombies.
The concept of human nature is brought into play, as well as some debatable topics with validity that should be discussed during these times and circumstances. At this point in the film, Selena’s Valium serves an entirely different purpose, but I will not give away what the motive is. Even the issue of human experimental cruelty is raised, including the conflicts that arise due to differing opinions.
The ending is unfortunately weak which relies on standard gun shoot outs, betrayal, and other plot devices that require no brain power in the story. Again, don’t expect a fright-fest as I expect some future 2003 movies to easily beat this one out. It’s disappointing in final scenes, but the first half of the film makes up for it through haunting visuals and likable characters who must find their way to safety while coming together and learning to trust each other. They must because their survival depends on it.
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