28 Days Later (2003)
Published by The Massie Twins
Release Date: June 27th, 2003 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Danny Boyle Actors: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Christopher Dunne, Emma Hitching, Kim McGarrity
t a Cambridge primate research facility, monkeys are experimented on to test a particular kind of disease. The procedures involve infecting them with a highly contagious, rage-inducing virus, which is accidentally transferred to a group of animal rights activists that break into the building to free the tortured chimps. 28 days pass, revealing a single man, Jim (Cillian Murphy) the courier, awaking in an abandoned hospital. He scrounges around for food, clothing, and bits of scraps that could be useful as he realizes that Britain has been completely deserted in a massive evacuation.
He enters a church to find a pile of bloodied bodies and an enraged priest clamoring for fresh blood – zombielike monsters lusting for a feast. During Jim’s flight, he’s rescued by two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), who explain the situation fully: after the virus escaped into small towns, it spread so rapidly across the country that the government and army were destroyed and almost no one was able to escape. The infected humans are fast, deadly, and mostly active at night, and the virus passes through contact with contaminated blood – typically through bites or accidental splattering into the mouth.
As Jim moves from place to place looking for sanctuary, he joins and loses several groups of survivors, such as Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), and scattered army strongholds. “28 Days Later” is sensible enough to develop characters that viewers can actually care about, or to create affecting personas that serve to shock or scare. No one is simply fodder, and the actual body count isn’t trying to be extraordinarily high. The realism is exceptional, as it mixes challenging, relevant ethical issues into the zombie violence, along with cinematography that puts audiences in the center of the action amongst a believable, relatively unknown cast.
“28 Days Later” certainly isn’t going to live up to everyone’s idea of a zombie movie. The editing is the first most noticeable difference, reflecting the lower budget and independent tone – full of grain, shadows, misleadingly serene music, handheld cameras, odd angles, frenetic lighting, and rapid cuts. The living dead are presented like many postapocalyptic antagonists, interchangeable with cannibals, mercenaries, or even alien species – and devoid of restrictive definitions. The terror comes from the fear of the unknown, creepy locations, very fast attackers, isolation, sudden loud noises, and disinterest in finding a cure. It’s about the pursuit and the fleeing and the mysteries, at first, which eventually lead to heavier themes, such as the increase of terror brought on by cruel human villains.
A few ideas are borrowed from George A. Romero, but the brunt of the visuals and story are original and thrilling, though also a touch artsy and marginally poetic, providing an excellent starting point for the rejuvenation or reinterpretation of zombie films. Part of the uniqueness comes from subplots of studying a captive zombie, from attempting to rebuild and start over instead of overcoming the disease, and from trying to maintain order and discipline in a world without a future. Perseverance outweighs scientific problem solving and survival supersedes morality. But there’s also heroism in the face of immense adversity. Alternate endings provide a bleaker conclusion, but the strong point is the creativity and the use of zombies to deliver a poignant message.
– Mike Massie
ByCecilia Sayadin the March/April 2003 Issue
Science fiction and horror films are frequently interpreted as allegories of specific realities, their fantastic and supernatural elements seen as symptoms of social and political malaise. The paranoia generated by loved ones taken over by a co-opting entity or ideology recurs within the most diverse of contexts, from Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (56) (evoking cold-war anxieties about Communism) to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (78) (contagious zombie-ness as the destruction of individuality by consumerism). The examples are as legion as the ranks of the undead. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later is set in a postapocalyptic Britain devastated by an epidemic that within seconds of infection transforms its victims into crazed cannibal killers. No aliens, no zombies—here, as Boyle asserts in the movie's press kit, people are victims of a virus that stirs within them something that is part of their nature: anger.
The movie starts with the usual sci-fi tropes: mankind’s experiments go haywire with destructive results. The epidemic begins with chimps infected with “rage” (as part of research into what we presume is a cure for violent impulses) liberated by animal rights activists. The film then cuts to a young man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up from a 28-day coma following a car accident. Finding the hospital abandoned, he walks out and wanders through the empty London streets. With few exceptions, those who haven’t fled the country after the outbreak are either dead or have become “the infected.” And it is with these survivors—Selena (Naomi Harris), widowed Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and his teenage daughter Hannah (Megan Burns)—that Jim will struggle to stay alive. The group sleeps amidst debris in deserted buildings, eats canned food gleaned from an abandoned supermarket, fights off the Infected, and worries about having to kill one another in the event that one of them becomes contaminated.
28 Days Later aligns itself with the typical loss-of-individuality plot—once an individual is infected, their humanity gives way to the monstrous. In that sense, the film is just one more in a genre that includes Night of the Living Dead, The Thing, Virus—which is not to deny Boyle’s unquestionable talent. Nevertheless, the film’s real interest lies in its relationship to contemporary events—or how its plot can fit different political backdrops—and it is tempting to read it in terms of the world’s current state of affairs. After all, the rage virus seems as uncontrollable as a biological/chemical attack or a suicide bombing. Not to mention the current SARS epidemic.
In fact the movie began shooting on September 1, 2001. Hence it anticipates, and is contemporaneous with, 9/11. It is hard not to think of the TV images of Ground Zero or of Baghdad devastated by war when watching 28 Days Later‘s scenes of destruction, all shot on DV. One of Boyle’s accomplishments is his mingling of naturalistic technique—stressed by fluid digital camera movement—with highly surreal imagery in which red-eyed creatures attempt to devour the uninfected. Even though the script was written before 9/11, the analogy between what Boyle calls the “social rage” portrayed in the film and present day social unrest is inevitable—and that certainly adds interest to the movie. Nonetheless, people’s unpredictable reactions to different sorts of violence are a frequent preoccupation in Boyle’s films. In Trainspotting a group of youngsters causes the death of a baby because they are too stoned to hear her cry. The Beach‘s pseudo-hippie community abandon one of their number to die in agony in the woods after he’s bitten by a shark, so that his moans do not disturb their peaceful existence. In 28 Days Later the film’s characters seek protection with a group of British Army survivors but face abuse and violence at their hands.
Finally, whereas 28 Days Later revisits consolidated sci-fi/horror narrative patterns, its political undercurrents and resemblance to the current world order make one wonder whether history will ever stop repeating itself. The possibility of renewal suggested by the survivors’ attempts to start over certainly points toward hope. However, the circularity of the movie’s plot is most likely to inspire dismay. After all, if according to the old saying, “order is born from chaos,” it must also be true that chaos is born from order.