December 24, 2010

28 Days Later (Review)

28 Days Later (2003)

Director: Danny Boyle

5 / 5 zedheads


Two British films rekindled my love of zombies when I was away at University. First, Shaun of the Dead made me fall in love with Romero-style flesh eaters all over again. Then there was the stylistically new 28 Days Later. It captured my imagination with is frighteningly fast rage-infected zombies that stalked the cold, dead, and silent ruins of London. 28 Days Later made me believe that zombies could run.

Wish you were here
Waking from a coma, Jim (Cillian Murphy) finds himself alone in an abandoned hospital. Venturing forth into London, it seems like he's the last man on earth. When he encounters what he thinks are survivors, they turn out to be horribly savage and murderous people infected with a deadly virus. He's saved by Selena (Naomie Harris) who teaches him the cold hard facts about how to survive in a world where one drop of infected blood, or one bite from an infected person, will burn up your mind and transform you into a mindless and relentless killer. Along the way, Jim and the other survivors they meet (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns) teach each other about the importance of family and humanity . It's a lesson that becomes even more important when they meet a group of deranged soldiers who have lost a grip on their own humanity, and Jim must become as savage as the infected to save them.

Even British graffiti is cheeky
The script for 28 Days Later owes much to the work of George A. Romero. His themes are all here: contempt for corrupt authority, a social commentary about the savage nature of humanity, an exploration of how far people will go to survive. Unlike Romero's films, however, 28 Days Later is a much faster and more savage depiction of the apocalypse. The zombies are not undead or flesh eaters; they are clearly mortal. However, in 10 to 20 seconds, they've been transformed into bestial, raging savages with no human thoughts. Their minds have been burned up by a fever that drives them to kill, kill, kill. They spit up extremely infectious blood, their eyes turn red, and they turn on their family and friends like mad dogs. Infected, these people have no logic and seem to feel little pain. While you're tired and malnourished, the infected will chase you down even if they're on fire. These zombies will run, and it's a scary and overwhelming nightmare scenario.

Why is it that both dogs and the infected love to roll in mud?
While films following 28 Days Later sought to copy the "fast zombie" idea, they used it too often for cheap jump scares and momentary thrills captured by hand-held shaky cams. No dread. No atmosphere. No suspense. Director Danny Boyle, however, doesn't rely on his zombies to jump out and go "boo." Instead, he creates a very oppressive atmosphere of isolation, despair, and hopelessness. The majority of 28 Days Later is also spent with its survivors and forging a sincere relationship between them. Only periodically are their lives interrupted by savage violence. Those movies that followed 28 Days Later often lost track of the emotional requirements of a good zombie film. Zombies that run are not enough to be scary. They have to put people we like, people we love, in danger. There has to be stakes. In 28 Days Later, running zombies work because they pose a threat to people we've grown to love.

Seeing Red: A subtle visual pun
28 Days Later is a thematically modern zombie film. Taking the essential idea of the zombie and mapping it onto current fears about terrorism, biological warfare, civil unrest, and disease, 28 Days Later gave the zombie concept a needed boost of relevance. In a world that many people feel is moving too quickly and where violence happens so senselessly and without warning, it makes sense to present an apocalyptic scenario that occurs equally fast, without warning, and with senseless fury.

Put a shirt on young man; you'll catch your death
28 Days Later is a fantastic movie from its performances right down to its production design (kudos to making London look deserted!). It also has had profound influence on the the state of current zombie media. Even video games like Left 4 Dead owe much to the zombies in 28 Days Later. Zombies don't have to be corpses anymore. Zombies don't have to be slow anymore. While I prefer undead zombies that shamble, I recognize the contributions of 28 Days Later. When used well, fast zombies can tap deeply into that which scares us most in a contemporary society spinning out of control.

THE 12 DAYS OF ZOMBIE is over. I hope you've enjoyed my reviews of these zombie classics. Here's to finding and creating even more zombie classics in the New Year!