28 Days Later
For years (and I'm talking about decades), zombies were slow flesh-eaters that rise from the grave and whoever they bite, dies and turns into a zombie. For arguments sake, we'll call them “Romero Zombies”. Yes their were zombie movies before Romero, but Night Of The Living Dead popularized them more than any previous movie. There were slight variations in zombies over the years, such as the unkillable brain-eating zombies from Return Of The Living Dead, but by and large, they always retained the same attributes. That all changed with one movie. One single, solitary movie allowed zombies to be super fast infected human beings. Now, most zombie movies are about plagues rather than the dead coming back to life and have sprinting zombies. All because of one movie and I'm not even mad about it.
28 Days Later is a 2002 British zombie movie staring Cillian Murphy (Red Eye, The Dark Knight) as Jim. At an animal testing lab in Britain, animal liberation activists release chimps that are being experimented on. The chimps are infected with a highly contagious virus called “Rage” and as soon as they are released, they attack people, causing the virus to spread among humans. 28 days later (get it?) Jim, a bicycle courier, awakens inside an empty hospital. He was hit by a car and has been in a coma for almost a full month. He manages to stumble through the hospital out into the equally empty streets of London. He wanders into a church which alerts a small group of zombies. They are extremely fast and chase a confused and terrified Jim through the streets. He is saved by two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris, Skyfall, Pirates Of The Carribean) and Mark (Noah Huntley, Holby City, Snow White & The Huntsman) who hurl Molotov cocktails at the zombies. They retreat to a Metro station where they tell Jim about the virus and how it quickly spread throughout the country. The virus, they say, has even reached Paris and New York City. Wanting to be with his family, Jim and the group travel to his home where they find his parents have committed suicide. That night, two zombies attack the house and Mark is cut badly in the melee. Selena swiftly and brutally kills him, explaining that the virus spreads too quickly to say any goodbyes. As they enter a city, they meet two more survivors, Frank (Brendan Gleeson, Braveheart, In Bruges) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) who have been living in a flat for some time. With supplies running low, the group decide to head to Manchester where a pre-recorded message from a military blockade promising safety and a cure for the infection .has been playing. Along the way, Frank is accidentally infected, but before he attacks, he is killed by a group of soldiers. Jim, Selena, and Hannah join the soldiers at their headquarters. Not is all that is appears though. Is the group safer with the soldiers or with the zombies?
"Crud! Crud! Crud!"
As I've said in other zombie movies review, I much prefer slow zombies. While in the present, a slow zombie is relatively easy to beat. It's when things progress and there are hordes of zombies do things get more difficult. I find those movies to be far more scary because it's a slow, crushing loss of hope from beginning to end. You will eventually run out of weapons and food and no one coming to help you. 28 Days Later forgoes the slow hopelessness for a fast, vicious terror uncommon in horror movies. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Million are) employed ex-athletes as his zombies, using their nature athletic abilities to make the zombies more believable. I don't usually like shaky, erratic camerawork, but during the initial chase scenes through London, they actually work perfectly with the overall fear and tension. The zombies themselves look good though the movie never really focuses on one for too long. They reflect the infected portion of the story rather than rotting corpses. I'm glad the movie took a few minutes to explain why people were zombies as many modern zombie movies just say “Eh, fuck it. There's zombies around just because”. I will say that one disappointment was the lack of destroying the brain. It seems you can kill these zombies like you would a person. I suppose the fact that they are infected with a various rather than undead, a rule change is acceptable, but I still like a good head shot.
Like all good zombie movies, 28 Days Later has solid and clear political commentary throughout. We have man vs. nature, a classic horror and science fiction theme. We have man vs. man, another classic. We also have citizen vs. government, which has become more common in horror over the last few decades. The movie even includes the Romero staple of having one white lead and one black lead. Both Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris play their parts very well and Brendan Gleeson is enjoyable in just about everything he does. Danny Boyle manages to capture the action perfectly while also giving time for emotion and feeling. All too often, horror movies focus on the guts and gore and forget to make the audience care about the characters. Each character is different and has their flaws, but above all else, they are believable and likable. The music is also good, including an edited version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor's song “East Hastings” which is quite effective.
"Who's ready for a zom-beatdown?!"
28 Days Later is a highly enjoyable zombie movie that managed to completely change how zombie movies are done. One could make the argument that this movie sparked the current zombie craze that we are going through. We're at the point where zombies are on TV and in romantic comedies. That never would have happened without 28 Days Later. The action is fast-paced and harrowing with plenty of blood and gore. The acting is very good and the directing is solid. The movie touches on plenty of social commentary without ever feeling preachy. While I still prefer my zombies undead and slow, I've come to accept them as super-fast plague carriers. That says a lot for a movie to be able to change the way you perceive something your enjoy.