28 Days Later (2002) Review (R)

Continuing my Halloween Horror Reviews…
This isn’t a horror film per se, but it certainly has horror elements. It’s a contagion film and a well done one at that. But, whereas other contagion films concentrate on the science of a virus spreading (and the politics involved), 28 Days Later concentrates on what I think is the sociological ramifications of a fast spreading virus.

The story begins with animal rights activists breaking into a research lab. They discover  animals (chimps) being used for research animals. As they attempt to free the chimps, a science type discovers them and there’s a quick standoff. The trespassers in their zeal to free the chimps ignore the frantic warnings of the scientist who warns that the animals are all infected with a virus. Okay, here’s where the genius of the story is… The virus is called ‘Rage’…. See where this is going? Okay, maybe you think you do, but the point is that the entire film is encapsulated right there. It’s literal and figurative.

So the activists free  one chimp and the apocalypse begins. Boyle attaches another brilliant plot device to the virus. Once bitten (or scratched or whatever), the victim has about ten seconds before they are reduced to mindless aggression themselves. You can almost do the countdown when someone falls victim to an attack.

After the quick prologue… the satisfactory yet simple explanation… Then the film cuts to… 28 Days Later…  A man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes in a hospital having had a bike accident where he landed on his head. The hospital is completely empty and looks like it’s had a tornado come through. This will be extremely familiar to Walking Dead fans which was produced the year after this. Anyway…

Jim strolls through the halls looking for signs of life along with the basic necessities. It isn’t long before he discovers what the audience already knows has happened. And as I normally do, I’ll leave it at that so if you’ve never seen the film, you can discover all of the surprises for yourself. The thing I like most about the film is that there is always a glint of optimism through the eye of Danny Boyle. A lot of apocalypse films dwell on the cynical side of humanity, this one has a sense of humor to it.

I’ve seen this repeatedly since it came out (maybe twice a year or more) and it never ceases to entertain. Often erroneously referred to as Danny Boyle’s reinvention of the zombie flick (there are no zombies in the film), it does deliver an apocalyptic setting that is rarely seen on film as well done as this. It does borrow a little from earlier films such as the 1980s New Zealand apocalypse flick “The Quiet Earth”. Some of the scenes like the opening of the main character waking up to an apocalypse that has begun without him along with scenes of the empty city seem lifted shot for shot in some cases. Don’t think I’m accusing Boyle of ripping off another film, there are some scenes that must appear in certain films. He certainly puts his own spin on them.

The shots of the empty London streets are what really sell this movie, IMHO. Boyle is a great storyteller and while I don’t think this is his best film, it’s right up there. He does a terrific job showing the audience what’s happening instead of having the story explained verbally. The 4 principle players are enjoyable to watch, especially Cillian Murphy in what was the film role that put him on the international map.

Besides the amazing visuals in the film, you can always expect Boyle’s films to have an outstanding soundtrack and this one is exceptional. The instrumental pieces add to the atmosphere of impending doom for all of mankind, especially the piece that underscores the events in the  finale. Boyle uses the music to echo the increasing violence that comes to a head with the central character… well, wouldn’t want to give anything away…  However this is not as gruesome as some critics have claimed. It is a tense film if you have not seen it, partly because it’s not predictable in the way most Hollywood films are; but, again, this is NOT a zombie flick. There’s a lot of blood splashed around in the film, but there aren’t people being pulled apart or eaten alive onscreen as there are in the… um… best zombie flicks like the original Dawn or Day of the Dead. Boyle wouldn’t do that. He focuses on characters and is what I would call a ‘responsible’ filmmaker.

What a great movie, though. 28 Days Later is a lot of fun for a ‘quite possibly the end of the world’ flick. And despite its flaws (and it does have some) I still give it…

5 of 5

It also made my Top 20 of 2002



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