REVIEW: 28 Days Later [2002]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 113 minutes | Release Date: November 1st, 2002 (UK)
Studio: 20th Century Fox / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director(s): Danny Boyle
Writer(s): Alex Garland

“That was longer than a heartbeat”

In anticipation for the sequel 28 Weeks Later, I decided to revisit the superb zombie entry 28 Days Later from director Danny Boyle. I remember back to when I first started hearing the buzz about this film and how surprised I was that it came from the guy who brought us Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary. However, because this was the guy who made those films, I decided to give it a try despite not being the biggest fan of zombie flicks or horror in general. As far as these films go, though, 28 Days Later has got to be my favorite entry to the genre. It could be that there is an actual story involved and an intelligence that is usually lacking in favor of gore and sex or it could be that this film isn’t really very much of a zombie film at all. The movie is not about humanity surviving against a race of undead beings, but instead about man fighting man as they always have. The only thing these infected beings bring to the forefront is that rage inside us all, now on the surface and unable to be suppressed behind a falsely neutral façade.

The zombies here are not dead and still ticking to kill either. The victims have been infected by a virus that makes pure rage takeover their bodies. One does not need to be dead in order to become a zombie; all that is needed is a drop of blood or saliva to enter the bloodstream. Whether through a cut, your mouth, your eyes, or any other exposed orifice, one tiny drop is all it takes for you to crave murder and flesh. Thankfully some people have stayed behind in England to survive and try to find others who have luckily escaped exposure. Our heroes are than common people striving to get through the horror that is happening all around them. Cillian Murphy plays the lead protagonist who’s helping out his new cynical friend Selena (played nicely by Naomie Harris who has been seeing more and more roles since), yet holding on to his feelings of compassion and needing to help others. Selena is very in the open about her own survival and the fact that when push comes to shove it’s her neck she will save. Murphy’s character Jim tries to bring a bit of humanity back to her, tries to subvert the carnage she has seen that has darkened her soul. I believe this is the true crux of the story right here—what is the point of saving humanity from extinction if you can’t see the invaluable worth of the life of those around you?

You cannot survive alone. This moral comes up often in the film and really drives home during the numerous stretches without zombies. The action scenes are completely riveting throughout, the quick-paced editing and sharp movements of blood and violence are harrowing to watch, and the chase scene in the tunnel while trying to change a flat tire gets the pulse running high. However, it’s the quiet points that really allow the story to mean something with the viewer. The relationship between Brendan Gleeson’s father and Megan Burns’ daughter delivers heartbreaking moments. They are only alive because they have each other, someone to love and survive with as isolation and loneliness surrounds them. Their bond shows what living is about and helps break the harsh façade Harris’ character has built up to cope. Each does their hardest to never give up hope and their emotions run high at times, but also show lapses of joy and happiness to counteract it all. I love a scene at the supermarket when they go shopping for food. Gleeson’s rant about good wine and his leaving the credit card at the end brought a much-needed smile to my face and totally earned my attention for what would soon happen next.

It is the end that brings up the political connotations of what has happened and the necessities of life. Whereas most zombie films end with the military coming in and saving everyone from death, Boyle subverts that with a more telling truth—cynical yes, but true nonetheless. These army men, led by a fantastic role of duality from Christopher Eccleston, have created a bunker to try and rebuild society. Their answer to the zombies is to arm themselves and make a life inside their quarantined home. This is a military state, however, and a utilitarian one. In order to recreate society you need procreation to keep the generations going. With only two female characters in the movie, you can imagine where this goes.

Sure the ending becomes a bit too much like your run of the mill actioner, but overall one cannot ask for more from it. You learn what it is to survive and that you need to have a reason to live and someone to live with. Murphy and Harris deliver the goods during their fight to get out of their island prison. As we later find out, the virus has been contained on the island. England has been quarantined from the rest of the world and sacrificed in order for society to continue on unfettered. The infected are dying of starvation and salvation seems to have finally come. Now if that doesn’t scream sequel, I don’t know what does. Hopefully Boyle’s producing credit on the follow-up will mean quality and a retention of tone as well as meaning from this well-done original.

[1] Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later – 2003
[2] Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later – 2003
[3] Christopher Eccleston in 28 Days Later – 2003

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