As a responsible father, I think it’s important to ensure my kids have a solid all round education. As such, I see it as my duty to introduce them to cultural milestones. Last night I did just that (I am being sarcastic here, by the way), sitting down with the girls for a family viewing of Danny Boyle‘s seminal 28 DAYS LATER. It had been many years since I’d seen the film, and I was interested to see how it stood up today: what was considered ground-breaking in 2002 might have appeared cliched today. To my surprise, I think I enjoyed the movie more than I ever have done.
A quick glance at my Recommendations page revealed that I’ve never written about this hugely influential movie for this site, so I thought I’d remedy that right now. As usual, a brief synopsis and trailer follows. Click on the link for my thoughts.
An infirmary patient awakens from a coma to an empty room…in a vacant hospital…in a deserted city. A powerful virus, which locks victims into a permanent state of murderous rage, has transformed the world around him into a seemingly desolate wasteland. Now a handful of survivors must fight to stay alive, unaware that the worst is yet to come…
Make no mistake, 28 DAYS LATER is a landmark film. In 108 frenetic minutes, Danny Boyle dragged the zombie genre kicking and screaming (and vomiting blood) into the 21st century. Let’s not reignite the whole ‘are they really zombies if they’re not technically dead’ argument because it’s pointless, instead let’s just accept that these fast-moving, zombie-like infected were bloody terrifying, and unlike anything we’d seen previously.
The film won me over immediately with it’s post-prologue introduction. Echoing THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (our protagonist wakes alone in hospital to find the world has gone to hell around him), it’s a brutally effective opening. The scenes set in deserted London work particularly well as Jim (Cillian Murphy) wanders alone in front of sun-drenched, rubbish-strewn national landmarks. With barely any dialogue, Boyle brilliantly sets the tone for his apocalypse.
The introduction of the infected is also worthy of note. The first of them we see is a priest, and instead of the slow, lumbering, clumsy enemy we were used to back then, instead we were presented with a furious, fast-moving, constantly twitching, blood-spewing creature. And for a while, the pace doesn’t let up. Boyle further plays with another convention by almost immediately killing off a main character we presume is going to be an impervious, alpha male survivor. Make no mistake, in this vision of the apocalypse, no one is safe.
28 DAYS LATER is not free from cliche by any stretch of the imagination. On more than one occasion my kids bemoaned characters who’d just strolled down a dark corridor by themselves, or who were standing under a dripping infected body… The thing is, the premise and look of the film is so strong and individual that it doesn’t suffer when it does stray into familiar horror movie territory.
Visually, the film works well. Filmed with a low-fi look using pretty standard (for the time) video, the blurring, pixellation and lack of sharpness adds to the atmosphere. The infected are filmed with short, sharp, over-cranked shots, emphasising their speed and unpredictability. The cast is strong, and the John Murphy soundtrack is a corker (I still listen to it regularly when I’m writing – check out his SUNSHINE soundtrack too while you’re at it).
My problems with the film always stemmed from the final act, and though I still feel the film loses steam a little as soon as the survivors come across Christopher Eccleston and his band of barely-controlled, sex-starved soldiers, this time around I enjoyed these scenes more than I remembered. Perhaps it was because after such an original opening, the film became somewhat formulaic. The characters had been free to roam through a unique post-apocalyptic world, only to be confined to a limited area for the climactic scenes. It felt strangely subdued in comparison to the sprawling openness and isolation of the rest of the film. I still struggle with that ending (which I won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen it). I guess I’m of the opinion that such a bleak and nihilistic story deserves a bleak and nihilistic conclusion, but that’s probably just me!
All in all, though, 28 DAYS LATER remains a classic in my opinion. I’ve a lot to thank Danny Boyle for… the film was a shot in the arm to the zombie sub-genre, which exploded just as I released the first version of AUTUMN. Although the only real similarity was the UK setting, an incredible number of people started mentioning them in the same breath, and the publicity that generated was very welcome indeed. I remember an online article comparing the two called ‘Didn’t I just read this movie?’ and early HATER reviewers thought it couldn’t possibly be coincidence that the main character’s name was Danny. Don’t even start me on the 28 WEEKS LATER/ AUTUMN urban legend. That’s a story for another time. I’ll see if the kids will sit down with me for another couple of hours of infected fun next weekend!
In the meantime, if you somehow haven’t yet seen 28 DAYS LATER, please rectify that immediately. You won’t regret it.