28 Days Later (2002)
Dawn of the British Dead
No, no. No, see, this is a really shit idea. You know why? Because it's really obviously a shit idea - Jim
To be honest I am not a huge fan of all Danny Boyle's movies, many of which I find enjoyable but not as great as some proclaim. In a lot of ways I find Boyle's work to be similar to that of Tarantino's, in the fact that even an average movie gains critical acclaim because of the man at the directional helm rather than for the movie itself. But with "28 Days Later" it is different as it is a good movie, definitely above average and although is just another horror movie, with it being based in the UK makes it feel distinctly different to the majority which make it into main stream cinema.
28 Days after a group of animal activists release a bunch of Chimps infected with a virus called Rage, Jim (Cillian Murphy - Inception) a bicycle courier wakes up from a coma in an abandoned Hospital and as he explores London he is confused as to why the once bustling capital is now deserted and silent. But he soon learns that he is not alone and after discovering a church full of zombie like, infected humans he is thankfully rescued by a couple of survivors and together they head north to Manchester with a couple of other survivors in hope of finding help.
The thing is "28 Days Later" is fundamentally just another zombie flick, with the zombies exchanged for rabid humans infected with a virus known as Rage. In many ways it is comparable to "Dawn of the Dead" and in style sits somewhere in between George A. Romero's original and Zack Snyder's fast paced update, although the storyline does differ slightly. But with the fact it is based in Britain, and the bleakness of the desolate surroundings makes it feel different enough not to be just another horror copy.
Like many horrors the storyline is not perfect, there are a few holes in the plot which leads me to some unanswered questions. Most notably is if Cillian Murphy's character Jim has basically been in a coma for 28 days since the infection spread quicker than swine flu, how comes all the medication he was on didn't run out after the nurses & doctor's either got infected or evacuated. It's just a small point but is one of a few moments in the movie which stop the storyline being perfect.
Despite this the storyline is surprisingly tight attempting to answer those sorts of questions which usually get ignored. In one scene where Frank, another survivor, leads Jim up to the rooftop of the block of flats you can see all the buckets laid out in the hope of collecting water to live on. It's this sort of moment, which fits neatly within the storyline, that helps to make "28 Days Later" feel not just another horror romp but a well thought out storyline which tries to add enough realism to make it believable rather than purely fantasy.
What also helps "28 Days Later" to feel more than just a bog standard horror is that it doesn't just rely on in your face visual violence and gore to scare you. Although in numerous scenes we witness the effects of the Rage virus on people, and praise should be given to the make up team for making these ravaged humans look not only real but scary, but for me it's the fact that Boyle builds up tension using traditional techniques to frighten you. In various scenes there are long moments of silence, not even the noise of birds tweeting interrupts the stillness, and then all of a sudden an unexpected sound or an abrupt movement in the background makes you jump. This is finely balanced with the in your face frights and with the use of snappy editing the sheer horror of being attacked by a rabid human works well to make "28 Days Later" an on the edge of your seat movie.
Although basically a serious horror there are various moments of light heartedness which break the mood just at the right moment. Being a British movie many of these moments are probably more apparent to a British audience who can appreciate the dry wit such as Frank giving a Whisky lesson to Jim as they fill their trolleys in an abandoned supermarket. This is just one moment where the movie brings a much needed smile to your face but without going all out and becoming an intentional comedy moment.
For me what also stands out is that being British I found the stark reality of deserted London to be quite chilling. It's not something you are likely to ever see but watching Jim through the centre of the capital with only the noise of the wind rustling through the littler and cars abandoned haphazardly hits home more than a similar movie set in the States. It's not just the desolate London which achieves this effect and the empty motorways add to this sense of eeriness which is heightened by a soundtrack which is exceedingly minimal adding to the sense of loneliness in several scenes.
My only criticism and I probably only picked up on this as the early scenes which feature Just Jim are very bare of action, is the annoying amount of product placement. Nearly every other scene in the first half of the movie seemed to feature a product name and whether this was intentional product placement or an attempt to build on the British location I am not sure but it did distract from what was happening in these early moments.
It also helps that the performances are for the most real from start to finish. Cillian Murphy is brilliant as the confused Jim who after being in a coma when the infection hit suddenly wakes up to a completely different world. The early scenes in the movie which see Jim walking through an empty London and learning slowly that something has happened are some of the best in the movie and these are partly down to the realism in Murphy's acting. Matching Murphy is Naomie Harris who plays the feisty Selena who has learnt to live by her mantra "Kill or be killed" it's a fine performance and between Harris and Murphy the movie has two capable leads who deliver the strong performances this sort of movie needs.
Amongst the supporting performances Brendan Gleeson does a good job of playing the protective father to his daughter Hannah played by Megan Burns. In fact, I am not sure whether Gleeson will like this, but at times his performance felt like something you would see from Ray Winstone and it is the gritty whilst slightly amusing nature of his character which makes it so interesting. Plus of course there is Christopher Eccleston who does a good job as the slightly deranged Major Henry West who with his small army of soldiers help to take the story off on a slightly different much welcome tangent as it becomes more about the effects of isolation rather than survival.
What this all boils down to is that "28 Days Later" is a surprisingly good horror movie which is tense, frightening and most importantly will keep you interested from start to finish with a balanced approach to how it scares you. With the stark reality of a deserted London it definitely appeals to a British audience and although the underlying storyline is nothing new the whole production makes it more than just another average rehash of what has been done before.
Tags: Zombie Movies
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