Not Your Daddy's Zombie Movie
Like the stylish dame at the ball who wouldn't be caught dead wearing last year's design, 28 Days Later is a more modern, fashionable zombie tale. It combines the latest tricks and gimmicks available to today's filmmakers with smart and brilliant screen writing to put a fresh new face on an old genre.
Even though we have the standard horror movie stuff -- camera jerks, loud noises and rapid jump cuts -- director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) takes us on a ghoulish adventure that toys with our sense of cinematic nostalgia, yet grounds us in today's true fears of AIDs, SARs, and West Nile Virus.
Boyle and first time screenwriter Alex Garland give us the set-up in a prologue. A group of animal rights activists breaks into a highly guarded animal research laboratory and apparently releases caged monkeys that have been infected with a highly contagious "rage" virus. Overhead television screens display round-the-clock violent footage, hinting that over stimulation to violent imagery can inflame or imbed the virus.
28 days later we meet Jim (Cillian Murphy), a bike courier who emerges from a coma and begins wandering the completely abandoned streets of London. An eerie similarity to the meanderings of Charlton Heston 31 years ago pervades as Jim finally encounters a pair of survivors that appear to be virus free. He learns that he's awakened to an epic nightmare. One drop of blood infected with the "rage" virus acts within seconds to turn the person into a bloodthirsty zombie with apparently one goal in mind -- to infect others.
Boyle spends a great deal of screen time on the empty streets of London. His use of desaturated digital video lends an air of grittiness that further enhances the sense of cold and colorless desperation that Jim must be feeling. A fog of infection seems to cloud every scene. Although more and more of today's films are utilizing this technique, in 28 Days Later it's appropriate.
Jim decides to return home and eventually encounters Selena (Naomie Harris), an apparently non-infected survivor more savvy in the methods of fighting zombies. It might be appropriate at this point to mention that the rules established by past zombie movies have been broken. Rather than walking in slow calculated movements with their hands outstretched in front of them, these zombies can cover 30 yards in the time it takes to draw a machete.
Jim and Selena, after meeting up with a father and his teenaged daughter, set out for an army base camp in North Manchester that allegedly holds "the answer to the infection". However, when they arrive, it quickly becomes apparent that the soldiers' intentions are not all that noble. It has been quite some time since they have seen women and the troop commander has promised a way to reseed the population.
While the premise may seem familiar and many scenes are obviously inspired by previous zombie movies, 28 Days Later brings the genre into a new era -- an era with new real-world fears and post-911 danger. At times it crawls at the pace of George Romero's zombies and the characters still perform the stupid horror movie blunders -- you know, like "don't go in there" or "don't look behind that door," but it is extremely creepy and strikingly suspenseful as it defies all zombie convention. After it completes its theater run, 28 Days Later is destined for cult-classic status and midnight-movie feature presentation legacy.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated "R" for strong violence and gore, language and nudity.)