28 Days Later (2003)
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