Sunday, May 1, 2011

28 Days Later (2003) A Little Case Of The Rage

It's become a classic of modern horror arguments:  should zombies be fast or slow?  "Fast" increases the urgency, but "slow" - the more traditional choice - allows for more character development.  Well, this argument as it pertains to Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later can be thrown out the window for one very obvious reason:  the movie isn't about zombies.

In fact, the antagonistic force of nature in 28 Days Later isn't comprised of dead-becoming-undead people at all.  They're still alive, but infected with something called The Rage.  So that argument I mentioned?  Save it for another day because while we're talking about infection horror here, the infected are still technically alive.  The danger, though, is still the same as undead movies:  the infected are going to chase you down and viciously attack you until you're a) dead or b) infected as well.  The disease takes hold quick, and makes you twitch and growl with madness, much like a person suffering the after-effects of a late-night Heineken run and too many burritos.  Not that I would know...ahem.

Despite the fast-moving nature of the infected, there are plenty of moments of character development in the film and that's the balance that helps hold this film higher.  It's a wild, kinetic ride when the action is in full swing, yet subdued and soft during scenes of real human interaction, and quietly tense during moments you know something is about to happen.

Literally 28 days after a militant animal rights group naively sets an infected chimp free, London is an abandoned urban wasteland.  Bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma to an empty hospital, and a seemingly empty city.  When he's set upon by a group of infected people, he's rescued by Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who fill him in on what's happened.  The infection has apparently spread like wildfire, and London - as well as most of England - has been evacuated.

The trio heads to Jim's house, where he discovers the final, peaceful fate of his parents.  While there, neighbors attack, resulting in an injury to Mark.  Without hesitation, Selena kills Mark, knowing the infection can manifest in minutes.  We never know for sure if the injury would have led to infection or not, but the scene marked the stark new reality of post-infection London. 

Selena and Jim eventually meet up with Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns), a father and daughter surviving in the upper floors of an apartment building.  The four of them hit the road, as they're running low on supplies and follow the signal of soldiers broadcasting from near devastated Birmingham.  They find an abandoned outpost, and Frank is infected when a drop of Rage-filled blood gets in his eye.  He is gunned down by the arriving soldiers, who take the others to their base in an old mansion.  They meet Major West (Christopher Eccleston), who welcomes them warmly at first before revealing that he plans on keeping the human race alive by forcing the women into sex with the soldiers, making Jim expendable.   Caught trying to escape, the girls are separated from Jim, who is to be executed the next morning.

The execution doesn't go as planned.  Jim escapes and lures soldiers to the roadblock where they first met.  After taking care of those soldiers, Jim makes his way back to the mansion, sets loose an infected soldier to cause mayhem, and goes about rescuing Selena and Hannah, almost meeting the business end of Selena's machete due to the brutal way in which he kills a soldier.  On the way out, Jim is shot by West and after leaving the Major to the tender mercies of an infected soldier, the girls hurry Jim someplace where they can tend to his wounds, which may or may not be fatal, depending on which ending you prefer.  And yes, there is more than one ending, the happiest one being the default at the end of the theatrical release.

Boyle always has an eye for the stylistic, from Trainspotting to the more recent 127 Hours.  In his films, he manages to reach past the wild or unique circumstances of the characters to get right to the heart of their being.  I remember watching Trainspotting and thinking how much I loved and cared about the characters, even if they had less than redeeming qualities.  The same could be said for 28 Days Later.  Even minor characters have depth to them, and the major characters - you just want them to live.  You just want this makeshift family to get to where they're going.  The acting is as good as expected in a Danny Boyle film, with Murphy and Harris as real standouts.

There are some really great moments in it as well. Jim's awakening and wandering around a beautifully empty London is haunting and sad. Jim's standoff at the roadblock is surrealistically bad-ass. His rescue of and subsequent brush with a machete wielded by Selena is heartbeat-fast tension. There are plenty to choose from, believe me.

Plus, I have to admit.  It's weird looking back on this movie and seeing Doctor Who (Eccleston) face off with The Scarecrow (Murphy) after the death of Mad-Eye Moody (Gleeson).

That's the nerd in me.

28 Days Later is kinetic and solemn at the same time, at the time a new look at infection horror when the genre was really starting to break out again.  It's always worth a look and makes you think twice when you hear about a new strain of the flu making its rounds.  Cover your mouth!  And eyes, nose, ears...


  1. I really liked this movie and you are dead ( pun intended!! ) right, they are not zombies. But as infected they are still scary. I like how it infused sci-fi and horror elements. But I actually liked the second one more after the virus has stopped spreading and the people return to London. It was really spooky and somewhat darker than this one. Robert Carlile was great as an infected dude!
    Doesn't London look awesome here completely empty and quiet? That is scary and horror in itself.

  2. Yeah, some people don't care for the second one, but I thought it was pretty good. The opening sequence is chilling, and yes, the abandoned city is quite haunting - and I dig looking at abandoned places.