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28 Days Later (2003) – Movie Review

28 Days Later movie poster

Written by: Alex Garland
Directed by: Danny Boyle
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston

My Advice: Don’t Miss It.

A group of animal activites break into a primate research facility, ostensibly to release the test subjects. Trouble is, they don’t really understand what they’ve gotten themselves into: the primates here have been infected with a virus that changes the infected into rage-driven killing machines. And thanks to the eco-freaks, this virus has been unleashed upon the world. Enter Jim (Murphy). He wakes up in hospital, twenty-eight days after it all got started–and now England has been evacuated. Someone forgot to tell him, though. And there are many, many infected people left behind also–and they want murder.

First things first. Danny Boyle: A Life Less Ordinary? All is forgiven. I was just the other day trying to think of the last time a decent zombie movie had been released, and you know what I came up with? 1985. That was the year you had Romero‘s Day, Return of the Living Dead, not to mention the classic Re-Animator. It was a very good year. Thus, I was ready for someone to show up and kick my ass with a zombie flick–and Boyle has done magnificently. He has been helped, of course, by co-conspirator Garland.

They did this with both a reinvention and a running homage. Reinvention in that the teeming hordes of attackers aren’t really zombies, per se. But, quick and to the point, they set up the situation and then shift into post-apocalyptic mode, with shots of a deserted London that harken back to The Omega Man. And that’s what I mean by homage: anyone can watch the film and enjoy it, but the horror fan will go nuts seeing the serious Romero hints, such as a reenactment of the Dawn of the Dead shopping scene, or the swinging light bulb from the basement in Night. Although it owes much to the earlier Romero films, it’s with Day of the Dead that it bears the closest resemblance, both in tone and storyline. Between Garland and Boyle, they’ve managed to capture what made the Romero films great and yet distill them into something that modern audiences can digest and get into. Let’s face it–audiences have changed in the last twenty years.

You’ve got a great cast leading the charge. Lead Murphy is unknown to me, but plays the befuddled survivor well. Harris is extremely impressive, as you’ve got to believe she’s a former chemist who can be as brutal as the day is long. Brendan Gleeson, who’s quickly becoming a Needcoffee fave based on sheer variety of roles, is a nice standout because he can work a riot shield like nobody’s business. And Eccleston we won’t speak of lest we give anything away, but despite the fact there’s not a great deal for him to work with, he plays the part to the hilt. Couple all of this with a great score by John Murphy and excellent use of angles and camera speeds by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, and hot damn, it’s good.

It’s not just good because it makes you jump in your seat or fills you with a sense of dread. It’s good because it’s really a cinematic rarity: a horror flick. What does horror do? It horrifies. That may sound pretty simplistic, but the majority of films that classify themselves as horror these days are merely thrillers. Jumping when a cat jumps into the frame isn’t horror. Watching Murphy’s character eye an enormous bulletin board in the street filled with messages from the dead and dying or walking into a church that’s become a charnel house–that’s horror. When you’re sitting in your seat and you don’t jump–you can barely breathe. Let’s hope others follow the example Boyle and Garland have set. Because it’s a good one.