28 Days Later (2002)
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston
“No, no, see, this is a really shit idea. Know why? Because it’s really obviously a shit idea.” (Jim, 28 Days Later)
I went to see 28 Days Later on its day of release in the UK (way back in November 2002) and as a result was not privy to the excessive hype it soon gathered afterwards. The first time I saw it I came out slightly disappointed, but after repeated viewings I warmed to it.
I think the main reason I was initially let down was because I was expecting a zombie film. The trailer gave the impression it was a zombie film, it was being billed as a zombie film, and as a result I was ready to see a zombie film. Let me get this straight, however: 28 Days Later is not a zombie film. The “infected” (as they shall be known) are fast as fuck. Yes, they may portray zombie-like symptoms (such as scarred flesh and the need to destroy humans… we do not necessarily know if any are eaten), but the red eyes and occasional violent vomiting of blood suggest that they are indeed infected with a virus.
Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma to find that it’s been 28 days since Britain has been exposed to a highly infectious virus known as Rage. He doesn’t know it yet but because he’s been lying in a hospital he’s become one of the last remaining people in Britain. The first 15 minutes are amazing for anyone who has been to London before and knows the surroundings. The shots of Jim walking through a deserted Piccadilly Circus are a sight to behold, and it makes you wonder exactly how they managed it (unless you watch the DVD, in which it’s revealed in the extra that they did it by filming the scenes just as day broke and just off-camera was the film crew trying to stop drunken clubbers wandering into the frame as they stumbled home).
Before long Jim begins to encounter the infected and meets up with a small number of other survivors including Selena, the other main character. He is told of the country’s mass exposure to the Rage virus and its subsequent evacuation. More infected appear. Jim and Selena get running and eventually they meet up with Hannah and her father. Unfortunately for any chairs looking to get their big break in acting, it appears that the young actress playing Hannah is more wooden than they could ever hope to be.
The rest of the film is a take-off of sorts on both Dawn Of The Dead (the group raid some shops, have a laugh then make some thoughtful, deep comments on the future of the human race) and Day Of The Dead (the group end up at a military base full of arsehole soldiers who keep some of the infected locked up). Even though it’s not a zombie film, honest guv.
Generally the acting is of a very high standard (with the exception of the aformentioned girl of wood, of course). Christopher Eccleston appears near the end of the movie as the leader of a military group and more or less steals the show with his performance, which is just as well because the rest of this final act is a bit rubbish. What was before a thought-provoking film about survival and what exactly the end of the world would mean (“you’ll never be able to read a new book or see a new film”), becomes a “men with guns versus zombies” blastfest, which seems somewhat out of place in a film that has for the most part been human-free.
You see, what makes the “infected” scenes so scary is the fact that the film’s locales are quiet and tranquil for the the vast majority of the time (since the towns and motorways are deserted), so when the infected arrive, there’s a clear change in atmosphere – what was once calm and peaceful has been flipped onto its arse, and shit’s about to go down (this is best demonstrated in the excellent tunnel scene). Once at the military base however, there are too many people we have to get to know (there are at least 4 or 5 new characters with distinct personalities), and by the time we’re used to these new, busier surroundings after being treated to sparsely populated scenery for 70 minutes, the film’s over.
Despite this, 28 Days Later is an outstanding horror film that is thoroughly recommended. The soundtrack is superb, the direction is gritty and it’s just a very well-made British horror.