28 Days Later

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 01/16/03 04:51:56

"Night of the Running Dead"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Zombie flicks are one of those eternally fascinating flicks for audiences and directors everywhere. For audiences, probably because the horde of flesh eating cannibals slowly advancing towards us that can't be reasoned with, have provided some of the greatest creep-outs in the genre of horror. For directors because they're cheaper-than-cheap to make, after all how much does green make-up cost these days? That's probably the main reason that zombie movies tend to be no more than junk these days ('Resident Evil' I'm looking at you). So it's a hearty slap on the back for Danny Boyle then for a)coming back to something approaching his form and b)for re-invigorating the zombie movie and giving it a fresh slant.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) is having a very bad month. A motorcycle courier, he's severely injured in an accident and left in a coma for the best part of a month. When he eventually awakes something's wrong. The hospital's deserted. No Doctors, no patients. The phones are dangling from their hooks, tables strewn everywhere. And as it transpires, the entire of London is like that. Buses lie forgotten on their sides, houses are empty, streets are piled with rubbish, and newspaper clippings refer to some sort of epidemic rife in the capital.

Jim thinks he's found sanctuary in a church. A church full of bodies. At least he thinks it's safe until a mad-eyed, drooling, priest tries to rip his throat out. Managing a partial escape, he eventually finds fellow survivors among the desolation. Selena (Naomi Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah, among them. It transpires that a virus, called the Rage, has swept Britain, being transmitted through contact with blood.
Instead of a physical transformation as such, the virus affects the mind in that it transforms the infected into raging, homicidial, bloodthirsty zombies. Although they're not zombies as such because they're not actually dead. Oh, and they don't shuffle around after you, they run. Very fast and without tiring.

The fact that Boyle and scriptwriter Garland, have tinkered with the traditional zombie representation by making them fleet-footed hunting packs, is the initial aspect that gives '28 Days Later' a unique place in the horror genre. Otherwise, it picks and pilfers from films such as 'Dawn of the Dead', 'Day of the Dead' and 'The Omega Man' in it's representation of a post-apocalyptic city deserted and ground to a halt. However, just because it wears its references blatantly doesn't make it any less effective.

The scenes of Jim stumbling around a deserted london, are as effective and eerie as any ever seen before in this kind of situation. Usually set in the future, the setting is instead very much here and now, making it a much more unsettling experience not just for Londoners, but for anyone used to living in any bustling city. Boyle litters the opening half-hour with little touches - bodies left in the open, scrawled notes left on walls in desperation for help, a shrieking alarm shattering the silence - that resonate and help create one of the most effective opening sequence for years.

Boyle seems to work best when his focus is on the smaller episodes in a film and not the main thrust of the plot. Jim's trip to his family home is one of the most upsetting moments in a film that seems set to permamently upset the audience by asking 'what would you do?' in a similiar situation. Boyle and Garland also upturn the usual conventions of this scenario by detailing the realistic aspects of survival. There's no cure being worked upon by a group of desperate scientists in an underground bunker, there's no taking up of arms against the Infected. Even when, halfway through, they come across an Army squad led by Major West (Christopher Eccleston) there's no reassurances with them, just a question of whether anyone can ever be safe again.

But as well as quietly horrifying moments found in the isolation of a deserted England, Boyle also revels in the claret. When the Infected attack, they do so in a bloody, frantically edited manner. With those contaminated having only 30 seconds before they turn infected, there's also the nasty question of having to despatch newly-infected friends before they turn on you. Like the rest of the film, this idea is nothing new, but on Boyle's DV shot, grainy film it achieves a raw sense of reality not seen since arguably Romero's original 'Night of the Living Dead'. There's none of the cartoon gore that has become the staple of modern horror, this is blood-letting that very nearly splashes onto your face.

Likewise, the characters aren't your expected characters. No-one knows how to really fight or lead, they only know how to survive the best way they can, be it collecting rainwater to drink or raiding abandoned supermarkets for food. They also make mistakes like anyone else. One particular drive is so unneccessarily dangerous, it makes you wonder why Boyle and Garland left it in, it so nearly punctures the characters credibility. But still it's the little details like these that last in the memory, and give the characters something approaching real life. One characters goodbye to the others is particulary upsetting.

Unfortunately, midway through it settles into a more conventional, run-around-while-under-siege storyline. While by no means bad, it just doesn't have the impact that the beginning does. Although Boyle ups the gore here by about 10 to achieve almost an Argento-esque climax, it's debatable that the more blood, the less the effect. It's clear that Boyle has had far more fun setting the scene, rather than finishing off the narrative.

And there are other flaws. Although the characters remain quite bland to supposedly represent us, they're mostly forgettable and there's no real acting to speak off. Boyle also feels the need to through in a bizzare watercolour sequence for some unexplained reason, and the ending just smacks off a writer and director having an inability to find an ending half as effective as their beginning.

But regardless of these flaws, '28 Days Later' is one of the most imaginative horrors of the last few years veering between subtly chilling and gore-tastic horrific. It's touching in the right places, and raises clever questions about man turning on man, and where the real 'Rage' virus resides. Several moments linger in the memory for days afterwards and the almost 'Blair Witch' camera style gives it a raw, uncomfortable feel. The zombie movie has needed a much needed boost for years, and '28 Days Later' gives it a big one. Despite the been there seen that premise, it sets itself out as not only a worthy successor to Romero's classic trilogy, but as one of the great horror movies of the new century.

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