28 Days Later Review
By Shawn McKenzie 06/27/2003
I like a good zombie movie, but with 28 Days Later I’ve come to learn that they aren’t all too frightening. Forget what the ads say, this one isn’t “Scary as Hell!”
In Cambridge in what I’m guessing is the present time, a trio of animal rights activists (Alex Palmer, Bindu De Stoppani, and Jukka Hiltunen) break into a research facility to release the chimps that are being experimented on. They run into the scientist (David Schneider) who is on duty, who warns them that releasing the chimps would be a bad idea. The chimps are infected with R.A.G.E., and one drop of their blood will turn them into bloodthirsty zombies. They don’t listen and all get killed by the chimp infection. Twenty-eight days later, a bicycle courier named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up alone in an empty hospital in London. He soon realizes that it isn’t just the hospital that is deserted. He wanders the bare streets of London to try to find food and possibly more people. He reaches a church that has what he thinks is people, but they are zombies, and Jim is almost attacked by an infected priest (Toby Sedgwick.) Two non-infected survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) save Jim right before the priest gets to him. Jim is glad to find into other survivors, and he suggests that they go to his parents’ house (mainly so he can find out if they are still alive.) They make it to the house of Jim’s parents (Christopher Dunne and Emma Hitching), but he finds them dead. They decide to spend the night, but zombies attack them during that night. One of them bites Mark, and Selena instantly kills him before he can turn into a zombie. Jim and Selena leave the house and see some blinking Christmas lights on a high-rise apartment balcony. They go to the apartment complex, where they find two more survivors, Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns.) They have set up an effective barricade against the zombies, but they realize that they can’t stay there forever, so they put their hopes upon a radio broadcast from Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston.) It says that all survivors should make it to their compound in Manchester where they will be protected his troop of soldiers and that they may have found a cure for the zombifying. They make it to the compound, only to find it in as bad a shape as the streets of London. To make matters worse, Major West’s intentions for the broadcast were a little devious and had actually put the survivors in more danger. Jim also discovers a secret about the state of the world that had been expertly hidden. Jim and his fellow survivors must somehow endure the zombies and possibly the soldiers in order to rebuild the world.
Why wasn’t it scary? I think it’s the style in which the movie was shot and the pacing of the story. Director Danny Boyle, who made the creative Trainspotting and the underrated Leonardo DiCaprio flick The Beach, decided to shoot this movie with a digital camera. The digital camera shots were effective in the beginning, making the barren streets of London look especially creepy. It wasn’t so effective when it came to the zombie attacks though, just cheap-looking. Speaking of those zombie attacks, they came so infrequently that it made the portions that didn’t involve them plod along slowly. When they did attack, it came and went so quickly that you barely had enough time to realize what just happened (these zombies are the first ones I’ve seen actually run instead of stumble along in a brainless stupor.)
The most obvious comparison to this movie is the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. I actually compare it to a 1997 music video by the experimental techno group Aphex Twin called “Come to Daddy.” That video was the creepiest music video I have ever seen, and certainly scarier than this movie. I just bring it up because they both had that dreary overcast mood and sense of dread (of which the movie never delivered.) What made Night of the Living Dead so scary was that sense of claustrophobia. Even the Dead sequels had that going for them. This movie didn’t have that, possibly because there wasn’t enough zombies to slowly zero in on the survivors, forcing them to barricade themselves in a secluded place and eventually be overrun by the zombies.
28 Days Later isn’t a boring film, just not the best zombie film I’ve ever seen. The beginning is straight out of a “Twilight Zone” episode, and actually intrigues you. Once the zombies attack, assuming you didn’t blink and miss them, you won’t be too frightened of them. The conspiracy angle of the story is interesting, but it isn’t fully explained or explored. It is a shame that Alex Garland, the author who wrote the novel that The Beach is based on and the screenplay for this film, couldn’t have delved deeper into a subplot that could have distinguished this movie from every other zombie flick. If you go to this film, I hope it doesn’t leave you as red-eyed as one of the zombies.
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