|A note on the date above... while it is true that 28 Days Later... wasn't released in the United States until June 27, 2003, this film was originally released in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2002. Being an international sort of fellow (not to mention an Anglophile) I'm going with the original release date! And you can't stop me! (But you can bribe me with Brains!)|
Yeah, give me more Zombie movies and Zombie literature. Sure it's great to see Zombies every weekend on Sex and the City but somehow those zombies aren't realistic enough! What I want is a cheap, gritty, grainy, hand-wringing, Lovecraftian bite of the undead Zombie thriller! One of my all time favorite books is a nonfiction work called The Serpent and the Rainbow but they have yet to make an accurate movie version of that one. So barring that, or a new version of Herbert West: Reanimator, a new(ish) Zombie Thriller by the guy who directed Trainspotting piqued the hell out of my interests!
28 Days Later... isn't much like Trainspotting, or like Herbert West: Reanimator for that matter, but that is exactly what makes this movie a great one. This is almost completely original. This is definitely a tale of Zombies, but it's also a story of the nature of mankind, the power of survival, the hubris of animal testing, and the cold military logic of the cold military. All of this boils down to a movie you haven't seen before. And viva le difference!
After a theme-setting beginning, the action primarily surrounds a bike messenger named Jim (Cillian Murphy). Being comatose after a brain surgery, Jim slept in a locked room for the first 28 days of the outbreak of a contagion that turns ordinary humans into rage-infected zombies communicable by blood or saliva with a maximum of a ten second incubation period. Confused and frightened, Jim hobbles through an empty London looking for answers, finding instead the aforementioned Zombies wanting to take a bite out of Jim! This setup of a new player, thrust into a developing situation allows the film to have someone to explain things to without sounding patronizing to an audience hopefully smarter than your average Zombie.
The explanations come from Selena and Mark (Naomie Harris and Noah Huntley respectively), two uninfected innocents who have been through 28 days of pure Pandemonium in a post -apocalyptic London controlled by fiends that make Mad Max's enemies look like the Care Bears! Along the way they face death, undeath, new travelers, fires, corporate greed, humor, new death, new undeath, and Britain's finest officers of the military, all of which combine to show a bleak present and a scary as hell road picture which isn't afraid to have more than two acts.
Writer Alex Garland (thus far known solely for the novel upon which that Leonerdo DiCraprio turkey The Beach was based) puts new spins on previously established Zombie mores. For example, the Zombification process is a purely scientific contagion not even based in VooDoo. He tells the story in chapters which on one hand gives an episodic feel and on the other doesn't make the film feel condensed or in any way formulaic. The opening is wonderful, but after seeing the rest of the film almost feels unnecessary! Everything is explained so well, that the film could have started with Jim's awakening. I suppose that Garland might need to change the title without that opening, though.
Danny Boyle can't be typed as a director. This guy is all over the board. He has a great feel for horror though, making very sure that he knows what really is scary. There is some blood, no doubt, but this isn't a spoon-fed easy horror, but more of an unseen menace. Even when the "Infected" are (quite literally) in your face, the camera is shaky and quick cuts are used to break up what you see and blur comprehension. Boyle also knows when to rely on action and when to slow things down. He never seems to be in a hurry, and allows the audience to get to know the characters on their own. Nothing is ever over-explained here at all, and any small lapses are acceptable due to the focus.
The music is likewise fantastic and mood capturing. Composer John Murphy seems to know exactly what works best as a compliment to Boyle's scenes and executes a number of moods in one vareied, yet cohesive score. Watch this Space for a review of the 28 Days Later... Soundtrack Album!
This is a low budget film, recorded entirely with digital cameras. This made for a unique look to the film, and an almost documentary feel, but also opened the door to some flaws. For one thing, this is a relatively grainy film. There are more blurs than one might be used to, and the entire movie feels like something you might view on BBC America. While many viewers might be uncomfortable with this, it does add to the reality and discomfort and provides many cinematic experiments that Boyle can use to keep the viewers off their toes!
Also due to the budget, one couldn't recreate London, therefore the London that you see is the real one. Boyle chose his filming times just to the point that the sun was up but there was no traffic. Great idea, but it doesn't always work. For one thing, there is only a small window in such a large any bustling city in which both emptiness and light can exist, therefore short scenes had to be filmed over many days, and in subtle ways you can tell. Also, in one scene in which it is vital that Jim sees no one on the streets (he's constantly calling for anyone to help him) there is obviously another pedestrian on the street in front of him. True, Jim's body blocks that person out for the most part, but it's there. Let me make clear though that one shouldn't murder this movie to dissect it as I have. It's a great one, and there's no way that I (or most actual film makers) could have made a film this good on this budget, and make it seem this clean. Nitpicking aside, there isn't much to complain about!
Four Stars for 28 Days Later... a well-acted, well directed, and well written scary movie. You might like it if you enjoy horror in the vein of The X-Files or other similarly subtle scary works. You might want to avoid it if you can't stand the sight of blood, or if you need your horror, like your comedy, handed to you. Also, be warned, this film is coldly cynical about society and humanity's inhumanity to humanity, where even those who are supposed to be of help are self-serving and coldly logical. This is manifold more frightening because logic, like movie reviews, is subjective and variable!