At a Cambridge research lab, animal liberationists set free a chimp infected with a deadly virus known only as Rage. Highly contagious, Rage causes sufferers to become blood-spewing murderous zombies. Twenty-eight days later, and a comatose young bike courier called Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes in hospital to find London deserted, except for marauding gangs of 'the Infected', intent on chasing down anyone they come across. After some narrow escapes, Jim eventually meets a few other survivors, becoming closest to a young woman called Naomi (Selena Harris). Together the group decide to follow a military radio transmission, which guides them to a base near Manchester. But the soldiers they meet there are in no less desperate a situation themselves…
Alex (The Beach) Garland's screenplay is made up of large chunks of George Romero's Living Dead trilogy with nods to the deserted cities of Day of the Triffids and The Omega Man along the way. Danny Boyle's direction is so brilliantly pacy, exciting and scary, that it's easy to forgive any theft, while the impact that the images of a deserted London have prove our capital can be just as iconic onscreen as any US city. Moving events to England also changes the situation enough to make the zombie idea fresh. It's well known that Danny Boyle used digital video to shoot 28 Days Later. While ugly, the effect fits in with the cold, pseudo-documentary feel, and adds lots of jerky camera action that is equal parts confusing and scary.
Although the characters are broadly drawn, they're sympathetic and interesting; even if having them commit acts of quite brutal violence jars with their tears for lost relatives. In fact, the violence is genuinely disturbing, played to disturb not thrill. The tone of 28 Days Later is deliberately frightening, with little humour, and the recurring theme of children without parents amplifies the feeling of being lost and helpless. A throwaway line about England being a quarantine zone works as a satirical comment on a country currently equally unwanted by Europe and America.
Along with Dog Soldiers, 28 Days Later proves there is hope for British genre cinema, although this is by far the superior film, a basically hokey idea treated absolutely seriously by a talented director, writer and cast and resulting in a gem. Let's hope we can look forward to many more UK films as good as this one. 9/10
Adrian Horrocks (January 2005)
of the Dead
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