28 Days Later (2002) Dir. Danny Boyle
To borrow a phrase from the hipster community, I've been watching zombie movies since before they were cool. Before you correct me, I know this isn't a true “zombie” movie. George A. Romero gets the credit in my book for the modern zombie movie and therefore I follow his rules when discussing the undead: slow-moving, mindless creatures driven by the primal need to feed. I GOT IT, nerds.
28 Days Laterinvolved the RAGE virus, which turns humans into terrifying killing machines that nearly wipe out the entire populous of the United Kingdom. We follow the story of Jim (Cillian Murphy) after he wakes up in a hospital bed, alone. He wanders through the hospital and eventually outside to reveal, as far as we can tell, that London is abandoned. He's eventually teams up with a group of survivors. They get entangled with a group of soldiers under the leadership of Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), a maniacal bastard who sees the current state of things as an excuse to take matters in to his own murderous, rapey hands.
Danny Boyle helms this film masterfully, utilizing handheld cameras and “shaky cam” to create a filthy, claustrophobic, and horrifying nightmare where no one is safe and no one can be trusted. The script by Alex Garland clips along at a break-neck pace only to then slow to a halt while we get to know the characters. Cast with relatively unknowns at the time, Boyle set out to make it feel as real as possible and not have the audience distracted with any celebrities.
I began watching horror and zombie movies around the time of this release in 2003 (2002 in the UK), but didn't see this for at least a year or more. The opening sequence in the research lab with the infected chimps is still one of the scariest scenes I've seen in a long time. The rest of the film enhances the established tropes of a “zombie” movie: desolation, isolation, swarms of the undead (in this case, the infected), and the fall of mankind and society. The acting is superb and heartbreaking at times. Eccleston is fantastic is the crazed major, enhancing the succinct satire of Garland's script. And my heart breaks when Brendon Gleason's character meets his fate. No spoilers!
I'd never seen anything like this film. I had seen some zombie movies and plenty of horror movies, but none that stuck with me like this film did. After watching it, you feel dirty. You feel gross. It's unsettling to think about an instance where one little thing – like a horrible rage virus – can literally topple society as we know it. In less than a month! The film spawned a sequel 28 Weeks Later, which is not my favorite, as well as a graphic novel and comic book series. Not to mention, jump-started and bolstered the careers of the actors and Boyle himself. Eccelston would become the titular character of the “Doctor Who” continuation three years later, Murphy would go on to play The Scarecrow in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and Boyle would later win the Best Director Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire and the nomination again for “127 Hours”.
If you're looking for something different this Halloween season, check out “28 Days Later”. Then watch some kitten videos to scrub out your brain.
Lincoln L. Hayes is the co-host of the WTF Are You Watching?! Podcast and The Monthly Show w/ Brian and Lincoln. Check out his short film “Pillow Talk” at http://www.lincolnlhayes.com and be on the look out for his web series “Boyfriend Training” due out later this month.