Review by Louise Keller:
A zombie thriller spiked with horror, 28 Days Later begins with plenty of promise and shocks, but gets swallowed up by an overdose of bloody violence. Screenwriter Alex Garland, who also wrote The Beach, describes it as a ‘sort of oblique war film’ with director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) exploring the paranoia of society.
It’s certainly a fascinating premise and the opening scenes in which we witness rage-infected chimps, are overtly disturbing and confronting. What happens next is cleverly left to our imagination, and when we meet our protagonist 28 days later stark naked in a hospital bed, we are anxious to find out what happened. Through his eyes, we wander through the apocalyptic landscape that was once London. From scenes of terror and violence to the eerie isolation, the contrast couldn’t be greater. The scenes when Jim wanders past Big Ben and Piccadilly Circus are positively creepy. Boyle excels at scaring us, and there are quite a few terrifying moments. I must confess I did look away a few times especially when rage-infected zombies spewed what seems like litres of blood.
It’s not until Jim meets Selena, Frank and his daughter Hannah, that the characters are developed. It’s a terrific cast and I especially like charismatic Cillian Murphy (Disco Pigs), whose Jim turns his confusion and vulnerability to that of a man who knows where he is going. Brendan Gleeson (The General) as the London taxi driver offers us memorable moments, Naomie Harris brings a softness into her initially impenetrable Selena and Christopher Eccleston (Shallow Grave) is splendid as the Major. It’s not only Jim and his companions who are disillusioned when they reach the Manchester soldier blockade, so was I, as Boyle’s film becomes overbearingly violent with far too much that is not only too explicit, but also tedious. At that point 28 Days Later just seems to lose the plot and probably the audience with it.
Review by David Edwards:
Danny Boyle is back. After a horror (no pun intended) run in recent years, the director of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting returns to mainstream filmmaking with 28 Days Later, bringing a new take to an old horror staple, the zombie movie. Boyle adapts the zombie genre along the lines of themes developed in, for example, the Blade movies, which see the “undead” as being infected through a biological process, rather than being cursed by spiritual forces. Coincidentally, Boyle also manages an obviously unintentional, but nonetheless disturbing, parallel with SARS. Unlike the recent British werewolf effort Dog Soldiers, 28 Days Later builds a truly disquieting atmosphere. The scenes in which Jim wanders the streets of an eerily deserted London are brilliantly staged.
Boyle’s depiction of the “infected” is also surprisingly effective and a world away from the often hilarious standard of B-grade zombie flicks. There’s even a message lurking in the film about a fate possibly even worse than being “infected”. But what makes the film ultimately work is its characters. The script (penned by Alex Garland; who wrote the less successful script of his novel, The Beach, for Boyle) gives us characters with whom we can really identify – rounded out people with foibles and insecurities; not cookie-cutter Rambo types.
Irish actors dominate the cast with Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson taking the key. Murphy brings a winning vulnerability to Jim. He’s not a real go-getter (that part is taken by Naomie Harris as Selena), and you get the impression he’d much rather be tucked up in bed than fighting crazed mutants. That however oddly makes him all the more attractive as a character, as we can all identify with that feeling. Gleeson plays the father who’ll do anything for his little girl, and he’s totally convincing in the role, even if it is a departure from his more usual hard-bitten character. Harris rocks hard as Selena, young Megan Burns is great as Hannah and Christopher Eccleston makes for a very British military commander as Major West. Although horror movies aren’t to all tastes, 28 Days Later is a surprisingly successful genre film. Its contemporary relevance undoubtedly helps, but this film offers a winning combination with its edge-of-the-seat thrills and a subtler but no less disturbing underlying theme.