It’s mildly embarrassing to admit, but I fell asleep in the theater the first time I saw this movie. I know, I know, I’m a huge poseur. Don’t get mad at me, I hadn’t gone to bed the night before! I was a wild animal on the loose in Partytown, U.S.A. and didn’t give a crap about nothin’! Because this was one of those weirdo “foreign” movies, there wasn’t much turnaround time between the theatrical release and the home video release, so I made sure to buy it and show it to everyone I knew like I was some cool ass dude. I recently saw some sort of internet video that used some of the music from this movie, and it made me realize I hadn’t watched this movie in years. I also owned the soundtrack on compact disc because of how much I liked the movie! Or, rather, because of how much I liked telling people I liked the movie. Okay, fine, I’m a poseur. Kill me.
Getting a shitty haircut is no reason to set your hair stylist on fire!
In some sort of animal testing facility, we see a group of animal activists setting free some chimpanzees despite not knowing the full details of what kind of tests are happening. Scientists are trying to find a cure to human rage, and they say that to cure rage, they had to infect animals with a concentrated form of rage (also mixed with a little bit of Ebola as later released in a comic book), and once we see the animals released, the chimps start attacking the activists and then the title 28 Days Later… appears on-screen. Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in an empty hospital without any real idea of what’s going on, other than he was hospitalized due to a bike accident. He wanders the hallways, out to the street, and even to the most crowded spots of London, only to be completely alone. When he enters a church and sees dozens of dead bodies, he asks, “Hello?” and a priest, covered in blood, starts approaching him. Luckily, two people save Jim from these rage-infected individuals and let him know that a virus has been spreading through England that turns people into blood-thirsty maniacs, and it spreads from person to person by blood or saliva. When these two people take Jim to his house to see if his parents are still alive, he finds that they have killed themselves rather than letting themselves become these monsters. At his house, the group is attacked by these creatures and only he and Selena (Naomie Harris) survive, so the two set out in search of other survivors.
And then you round the corner and you see a Boba Fett knockoff protecting the stairwell.
Jim and Selena see a large apartment building with one apartment that has lights on, so that’s where they make their way. The maniacs (do you guys mind if I call them maniacs?) chase them up the apartment building stairs until they are saved by Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). This new group of survivors realize they need to find help elsewhere and follow a transmission on the radio to what they think to be a military base. They encounter abandoned grocery stores, horses running wild, and groups of maniacs along the way, but eventually meet up with the military for some help. As soon as they arrive, Frank has a drop of blood fall into his eye, and with the military kills him so that he doesn’t have time to harm anyone. The military take Jim, Selena, and Hannah to a mansion that they have fortified and brought supplies to. Shortly after their arrival, our trip realizes the military’s intentions involve raping and impregnating Selena and Hannah to rebuild the population, and they take Jim captive. Jim is able to escape into the woods, but when he comes back, he sets one of the maniacs lose in the mansion to take out the military. People are transforming, one by one, into these rage monsters, and when we see Jim finally confront the man responsible, he beats him to death. When Selena enters the room and sees what’s happening, she hesitates to kill Jim, only to realize that he hasn’t actually been infected. Some time later, the trio are living in a small cottage in the countryside, and they’ve used giant letters in a field asking for help, which helps them get saved by the jets flying overhead.
Great, Jim. Disobeying your parents even after they’re dead.
Lots talk a little bit about zombie movies, shall we? 28 Days Later… causes lots of debate with horror movie fans, mostly centering around whether or not this movie can be considered a “zombie” movie. One big issue is that the maniacs in this movie aren’t dead, they’re very much alive, but a disease has caused them to want nothing but to harm individuals that aren’t infected. You don’t have to shoot them in the head, they aren’t craving brains, and their flesh doesn’t fall off. Although the creatures in this movie aren’t technically “zombies”, I still think 100% that this film deserves to be considered in the genre of zombie movies. In the 30’s and 40’s, while America was going through a depression and a world war, zombie movies focused on voodoo and on the fear of being turned into a mindless drone, whether it be through another country overpowering us or taking jobs that would essentially make humans slaves. In the 50’s, zombies went from voodoo and more towards the fear of the cold war, with zombies being these creatures created by nuclear radiation. In the 60’s and 70’s, zombie movies showed more themes of racism and social classes. The 80’s and 90’s emphasized the futility of life, and zombie movies focused more on how societies would rebuild themselves once all humans were gone. It makes perfect sense then, that in 2002, the source of people’s fear would be based on blood and scientific experiments, and the “villains”, in this case being the army, were more focused on taking away people’s rights and humanity in order to further their existence. Even though 28 Days Later… breaks pretty much every zombie rule that decades of film and literature had spent creating, this was the horror film that used mindless, bloodthirsty creatures to scare you, making it completely fit within the genre of zombie movies. Also, people who say there are “rules” to zombie movies, fuck you. I understand that by using creatures that have established themselves in popular culture need to adhere to certain criteria, but you need to allow filmmakers to bend those rules a little bit for the sake or originality, and people who spend too much time worrying about “rules” of things they didn’t create are never going to have as much fun as the rest of us.
Noami Harris needs some sort of hair product endorsement for keeping her hair elevated for 28 whole days.
Now that we’ve got THAT out of the way, how is this movie? It’s pretty awesome, I’d say. The beauty of the opening sequence of this film, with Jim waking up, having no idea what’s going on, is that the viewer gets to go along on the same exact journey as the main character. We are confused, suspicious, and vulnerable at the same time as he is. And the casting decisions were fantastic, with a relatively unknown Cillian Murphy playing your average Joe, or I guess Jim, along with the Naomie Harris taking the lead in all life-threatening decisions, which isn’t typical of female leads in horror movies. And Brendan Gleeson was so comforting in his relationship with his daughter, that the viewers knew everyone would be safe so long as he was around. That made the moment he got blood in his eye one of the most crushing moments of this movie, and one of the more depressing of recent memory in horror films. The fact that the whole thing was a terrible coincidence, and knowing that his character only had 20-30 seconds before he would become a danger to his new friends and his daughter, and knowing he’d no longer be able to protect them, well, it was an intense sequence. Not to mention Christopher Eccleston as the one in charge of the military who is such a confident sleazebag, he’s almost able to convince the viewer that he’s doing the right thing. This movie wouldn’t be nearly as successful if the cast wasn’t so flawless.
It’s probably his asshole charm that helped him land the role of the popular character of “Dr. Where” on popular British radio programs. I think I’ve gotten that right?
Danny Boyle didn’t have nearly the critical or financial success to make this movie a giant production, being made for only around $8 million, but this only added to how good the movie is. It was shot on digital cameras, which on the one hand caused a far more gritty look and feel and resembled the quality of your average home movies, and on the other hand allowed the filmmakers to film things quickly and move on. That second point might not seem all that important, but considering there were scenes with the busiest and most tourist-filled parts of London being completely empty, that’s the only way it could have been done. Allowing the filmmakers only one hour to shoot what they needed, the digital cameras allowed them to be set up within minutes, and for the people inconvenienced by the closures, Boyle hired attractive women to explain and apologize what was going on. This only further demonstrates Danny Boyle’s versatility as a filmmakers, being able to shoot a horror movie in a guerilla style, and follow that up with a science fiction movie, and follow that with a movie that takes place in India and have that win eight academy awards. As if the cast and filmmaking style weren’t impressive enough, the heavily electronic soundtrack really took things to the next level that almost sounded like an update of any of Goblin‘s soundtracks to classic George Romero movies. There’s no way the scene at the end with Jim running through a mansion, letting lose the maniacs and trying to find Selena and Hannah while the viewer doesn’t know if he’s infected, would have been anywhere close to that intensity without the music arranged by John Murphy, with appearances from Godspeed You Black Emperor and Grandaddy. It’s rare for a group of filmmakers, cast, and music to come together in such synchronicity, but when they do, it creates something pretty fucking fantastic, and I think that even if some people don’t consider it part of the zombie genre, it’s definitely the reason why zombies have been brought back into pop culture over the past ten years.
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