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28 Days Later (R)
Fox Searchlight
Official Site
Director: Danny Boyle
Producers: Alexander Macdonald
Written by: Alex Garland
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston

Rating: out of 5

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 themselves.

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.

—Edward Rholes


hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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