| In making 28 Days Later, director
Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and writer Alex
Garland have added a fine new installment to that most venerable
of genres, the zombie horror flick. Of course the creatures
who populate this nightmare aren’t really zombies, but rather
living human beings. They’ve been infected by a rage-inducing
disease, something like rabies, that leaves them in a zombie-like
state, inclined only to attack and kill those who are not like
The film begins with some Animal Liberation types breaking
into a lab where they discover a number of chimps being experimented
on. One is actually hooked to some monitors watching random
scenes of violence like a simian version of Alex in A Clockwork
Orange. Although they’re warned that the chimps are part
of an experiment to cure rage and that they are highly contagious,
the misguided do-gooders unleash the apes, who subsequently
attack them and set in motion a plague of madness that engulfs
England in less than a month.
We meet our hero Jim (Murphy) 28 days after these events
occur. He’s been in a coma and is naturally startled to find
London so seemingly empty. After running across a mass of
corpses, and a horde of zombies, (referred to as the “infected”)
he meets a few survivors who confirm for him that, yes, something
terrible has happened. Soon Jim and a few of his new companions
are lured to Manchester by promises of safety, only to find
a less than ideal haven waiting for them.
Zombie films have always been a vehicle for pessimistic social
commentary, and 28 Days Later follows in that tradition.
The effective dissolution of civil society causes the people
to act out of fear and gives them license to pursue other
base instincts. George Romero blazed this trail with
his classic Night Of The Living Dead and its superior
sequel Dawn Of The Dead. In that film, gangs of bikers
pillage the countryside while the zombies congregate and wander
aimlessly in shopping malls where Muzak plays in the background.
While lacking such satirical elements, 28 Days Later
provides us with plenty of examples of man’s inhumanity.
28 Days Later was made on small budget and shot on
video, which gives a blurry, sometimes dreamlike look to everything,
nicely complimenting Jim’s perspective. The “infected” have
a demonic look to them; their eyes glow red, and instead of
staggering toward their prey, they typically run, making them
far more frightening foes than we’re used to seeing in zombie
flicks. (Although this isn’t a totally novel concept; Return
Of The Living Dead also featured running zombies.)
What really makes 28 Days Later unique is the high
quality of acting, particularly from Harris, and the
seriousness Boyle and Garland bring to the subject matter.
While most zombie films since Night Of The Living Dead
have been cheap exploitation films, 28 Days Later goes
for reality and achieves a palpable sense of dread. Even though
Boyle’s flashy instincts occasionally go too far, leaving
certain scenes looking like extras from a NIN video,
it’s still definitely preferable to the Corman-like
aesthetics we’re used to.