28 Days Later… title image
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113 min.
Release Date
28 days later movie poster

Originally billed as a zombie reinvention picture, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later became the sleeper hit of 2003, reviving audiences’ interest not only in the undead, but with post-apocalyptic and last-man-on-Earth storylines. After Boyle’s film, the 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Edgar Wright’s hilarious comedic ode Shaun of the Dead, and Romero’s own new entry Land of the Dead were welcomed by cult fans. The zombie subgenre allows filmmakers to use mindless bodies as ciphers for a greater message. In this case, masses of “infected” (writer Alex Garland’s clever substitution for zombies) are contaminated with a Rage Virus, illustrating society’s social disease—a collective violence easily seen by clicking on CNN.

Boyle shot this film with a Canon XL1 digital video camera, giving the entire picture a fuzzy documentary, home-video impression. The first scenes show newscast material of riotous behavior, which reflects any number of present-day real-world conflicts, being shown to chimps in a lab. An attendant claims the chimps are highly contagious and infected with rage, in an attempt to cure society of its own frenzied behavior. Ignoring the attendant’s warning, animal right activists release one of the chimps, which then attacks a young activist. These manic early scenes show how quickly four people succumb to the Rage Virus and turn into twitching, screeching, blood spitting animals. These are not the zombies of yesterday—not corpses slow and putrid with rigor mortis. The Infected run at full speed, and unlike the creatures in Night of the Living Dead, which rely on intimidating crowds, an Infected individual sprints on its own, inciting unrelentingly squirm-inducing fear in the viewer.

Fade to 28 Days Later… Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed, long after the Rage Virus has spread throughout London. It seems he is the last man in England; haunting scenes depict Jim walking through abandoned landmarks of his city, now eerily empty, and littered with the debris of desertion. Newspapers read of mass hysteria, evacuation, and government efforts at containment. Jim enters a church, possibly for some answers from God; instead, he finds the priest and the other hordes gathered in the church have become Infected. Hissing, his eyes a searing red, the Infected priest attacks Jim, who out of fear hits the priest and runs. There is no salvation from violent human nature; it is total.

Finding other survivors, soon Jim and a woman named Selena (Naomie Harris) pair up. Hardened by survival, Selena will kill without hesitation, even if means killing a close friend bitten by one of the Infected. Their group increases to four when they meet Frank and his teenage daughter Hannah (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns, respectively). Frank quickly becomes the teddy-bear father figure for the entire group, which grows into a surrogate family. After hearing a military broadcast on an emergency radio claiming sanctuary and “the answer to infection,” the four survivors decide to seek out the refuge of the military, hoping for protection from the dangers of England’s now-dismal landscape. When arriving at the suggested military base, they find it is, in fact, a former mansion, reinforced with barbed wire and mines in the surrounding area. Greeted by a handful of soldiers lead by the maniacally logic-driven Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), disappointment sets in when they realize that the soldiers’ idea of an “answer to infection” and the beginning of civilization is a boiler and sitting together at dinner.

Placed in the entryway of their pseudo-military base sits a copy of the famous Hellenistic Greek sculpture of the Laocoön group, minus the two figures representing the Trojan priest’s sons. According to Greek myth, Laocoön predicted that the Achaean’s gift of the Trojan Horse was a deception. He claimed, “A deadly fraud is this, devised by the Achaean Chiefs!” The Laocoön piece stands a contorted physical specimen, warped in the soldiers’ very doorway as if twisted by the truth of their false front. In reality, the soldiers’ message is aimed to lure people, in the desperate hope that women will deliver them from desperation. For these lonely soldiers, convinced society has no future, women mean potential reproduction, thus a newborn society. Selena and Hannah are taken prisoner and are to be raped by the soldiers, now maddened by disorder. Letting their fear and power take over, the soldiers replace the Infected as the greatest threat to the survivors (just as the bikers in the third act of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead become more threatening than the zombies). Humanity’s violent nature becomes its own worst enemy, and the Infected are but a symptom of it.

Brit director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and Millions) gives this film humanity while also infusing the story with a stark criticism toward human civilization. The frantic camera style gives us jolts of an ersatz televised realism, as if we were watching the events of the movie on live TV. And though the image on the screen blurs and shakes, the message is clear via a familiar theme the greatest zombie-esque movies often portray—that humanity, not the walking (or running) undead, is the enemy. Our own iniquities will be the end of us. However, 28 Days Later remains oddly optimistic in the end, putting hope where George A. Romero would rather throw one final slap-in-the-face. Boyle’s film provides ample symbolism throughout to make his film more than just a horror movie, but a cleverly constructed and hopeful cautionary tale.

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