Director: Danny Boyle
Writer(s): Alex Garland
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Box Office: $82.7m
Release Date: 1st November, 2002
IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
UK Blu Ray release? Yes
Cillian Murphy – Jim
Naomie Harris – Selena
Brendan Gleeson – Frank
Christopher Eccleston – Major Henry West
Megan Burns – Hannah
Plot According to Google: A group of misguided animal rights activists free a caged chimp infected with the “Rage” virus from a medical research lab. When London bike courier Jim wakes up from a coma a month after, he finds his city all but deserted. On the run from the zombie-like victims of the Rage, Jim stumbles upon a group of survivors including Selena and cab driver Frank, and joins them on a perilous journey to what he hopes will be safety.
Inertia’s Insight: Often praised as re-birthing the zombie genre for modern times, 28 Days Later re-established the conventions of the post-apocalyptic zombie narrative and in doing so it brought a swathe of new titles and interpretations with it, including another stab by the Godfather himself with Land of the Dead (2005).
A group of animal rights activists break into a research laboratory in order to free the captive animals. Despite the scientists’ warnings that the chimps are infected with an incredibly strong rage virus, they release them anyway and in doing so, they set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events in which 99% of the population become infected with a deadly rage virus.
The opening is brutal, establishing the basics of the infection and showing just how quickly the virus can take hold and transform someone. There’s no death and resurrection involved; it’s an infection, one that surges through the body in a matter of seconds, making you void of all emotion but pure, simple rage.
Awaking in a hospital bed, attached to machines that have long run out of juice, Jim wakes to find an empty hospital. He investigates the hospital and eventually the outside world, only to find it bereft of life. Walking across a deserted Westminster Bridge in rush hour and not seeing a soul is now an iconic image and it has an effect – every image we’ve ever seen of this famous London landmark has been steeped in traffic and people, so to see it completely deserted immediately gives us a sense of the impact of this outbreak.
As Jim investigates and finds a wall dedicated to information about the missing, we can appreciate the devastation that has wrought the country for the past 28 days. The first real brown pants scene for me is in the church. Jim has no clue what has happened, no understanding of the infected or the need to avoid them. Entering the church and seeing hundreds of bodies lying on top of each other, its the first real moment that he has to understand the reality of the situation he now faces. That shot when Jim shouts and two of the infected first look up is gloriously effective filmmaking, keeping the infected in a long shot but showing enough of them to know that they pose a danger. Jim’s confrontation with the priest and the subsequent pursuit of these fast, vicious people, saved at the last minute by Selena and Mark brings him up to speed on the new world he has awakened in.
The first true sense of his newfound life comes when he visits his parents. Its a startling awakening for the audience too, as we grasp the lengths in which people have gone in 28 days with that age old adage: fight or flight. The brutal attack that comes in the wake of that visit shows us the extent to which Selena, and ultimately Jim, will go to in order to survive. They meet Frank and his daughter Hannah, and from a scratchy, intermittent radio broadcast from the military, they decide to head for safety.
The beauty of this film is Boyle’s decision to shoot digitally. By doing so, he removes all of the glossy glean and instead we are left with a raw, grainy, shaky and real imagery that immerses you in to the film. It’s a terrifying experience at times, particularly with the tight shaky movements when depicting the speed of the infected, but it also plays to Boyle’s advantage when showing the lighter side of the apocalypse. The scene in which Jim, Selena, Hannah and Frank sit at a ruin and eat a picnic makes the countryside look glorious, with the horses running free in the distance.
Boyle, a relative newcomer to the world of horror, absolutely nails this film. Some of the imagery – Jim on Westminster Bridge, the infected in the church, the dream sequence, the shadows on the wall of the tunnel, the stark close-ups of the infected – is exquisite, and does more to terrify than any gruesome death scene.
As with any post-apocalyptic future in which there are no rules or governance, the survivors are apt to struggle for power and in doing so become the monsters that they are fighting against. The arrival of two women at an all-male military compound sets into motion a chain of events that transforms Jim from confused patient in an empty hospital to a feral defender that resembles the infected to the point that Selena nearly kills him.
28 Days Later is now 14 years old (!) but will be a timeless horror in the vein of Night of the Living Dead – a resurgent zombie film in which the infected bring to light the true terror of the human nature. A first-class film from Boyle and Garland that ushered in the ‘fast’ zombie and sparked the new trend that, 14 years on, shows no signs of dying.
Inertia’s Ideal Score (* out of 5): * * * * *
- Athletes were cast as the Infected because of how important physicality is to them.
- The film was shot almost entirely in sequence.
- The symbol for the film is the international symbol for blood-borne biohazards.
- Rendering the zombie movie more contemporary, Boyle and Garland made the virus affect people psychologically as opposed to physically. The virus makes people rage, drawing on societal norms like road rage, air rage, hospital rage, etc.
SELENA: Have you got any plans, Jim? Do you want us to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and fuck? Plans are pointless. Staying alive is as good as it gets.
JIM: What about the government?
SELENA: There’s no government.
JIM: Of course there’s a government! There’s always a government. They’re in a bunker or a plane.
MARK: No, there’s no government. No police. No army. No TV. No radio. No electricity. You’re the first uninfected person we’ve seen in six days.
All images courtesy of Google
Tomorrow: Night #29 – Let the Right One In (2008)