28 Days Later
- Virus Named Rage Destroys the World and All but a Few Sorry Remnants of Humanity in a Chilling SF Drama

Honestly, I can't figure out why so many people call 28 Days Later a horror movie, or a zombie movie. I found next to nothing in it that merits such labels. Scary though it is, it boasts no supernatural agents nor do the freaky creatures in it look or act anything like the brain-washed walking dead.

Review by SAndman
January 21, 2010

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer:
Alex Garland

Cast:
Cillian Murphy as Jim
Naomie Harris as Selena
Brendan Gleeson as Frank
Megan Burns as Hannah
Christopher Eccleston as Major Henry West

Released: 2002

Sergeant Farrell: If you look at the whole life of the planet, we... you know, man, has only been around for a few blinks of an eye. So if the infection wipes us all out, that is a return to normality.



If anything, it is a chilling SF drama played out against a post-apocalyptic backdrop with a virus scare thrown in for good measure.

The theme is simple. The end of the world has come down, in the form of Rage - a brand new virus (yeah, you heard it), and men deal with it each in their own way. The characters' responses to the impossible situation, including all the complex emotional issues such a situation draws out, resonate throughout the movie.

It doesn't take long to realize that this is a movie painted in shades of black (literally), so it doesn't make for an easy watching. But I would still hesitate to call it a horror movie. Though it features bucketfuls of rather graphic scenes, read, fountains of blood carrying the deadly pathogen projectile-vomited at hapless victims, the real terror is always psychological and existential.

As I already mentioned, 28 days later is a post-apocalyptic movie and all the recognizable motifs are there:

  • breakdown of the world as we know it in a single massive event and subsequent dissolution of law and order;
  • men reduced to something worse than rabid dogs, who apparently have no other purpose whatsoever except to bite, claw at, and shred other humans to bits;
  • desolate or demolished urban vistas, including the recurrent empty streets strewn with the detritus of civilization;
  • abject cynicism of the survivors.

You can also watch 28 Days Later as a kind of contemporary allegory as some crucial elements of the story are left unexplained and it is for the viewers to provide rationale for some of the more cryptic proceedings in the movie - for instance, the haunting opening shots featuring never too explicit virus treatment. Not to mention the very name of the virus with its religious and metaphysical overtones.

28 Days Later begins when a group of British animal rights activists break into a laboratory where experiments are being carried out on chimpanzees. A scientist/lab technician interrupts the perpetrators and entreats them not to release the monkeys since, he claims, they have been infected with Rage.

Well, in this movie Rage is a virus, and a man-made virus at that. Though we never really learn the technical minutiae of the process, the bottom line is that Rage is part of human condition and in an ironic twist the innocent primates have been infected with it by means of bad science.

Not heeding the lab man's pleas, one of the activists releases a chimp from the cage and momentarily the frenzied (enraged) animal attacks him. The man is bitten, falls down on the floor, and in a matter of micro seconds transforms into a mindless, blood-shot, biting beast which instantly turns on his erstwhile buddies.

28 Days Later, Jim, a courier who has been injured in a traffic accident, wakes up in a London hospital and realizing that except him there is not a living soul around he walks out. Wandering through empty streets and squares he is confronted with the clues of a major exodus which took place during the time he was unconscious.

In the course of the story, Jim comes across two survivors, Mark and Selena. As the trio pick their way through the wreckage of civilization they are harassed by the packs of the infected. Unfortunately, they also find out that the healthy and the so-called sane human being can sometimes be far more vicious than the sick.

Cinematography is absolutely in sync with the topic and the excellent camera work - they used the digital MiniDV camera! - renders a creepy sense of immediacy to even the most dreamlike sequences.

At times you almost get the impression that the director is rediscovering the post-apocalyptic world in terms of color and shape and is trying to make sense of even the most basic sensory input. Skin, stubble and bodily fluids galore all have the ever so slightly disjointed feel. And the impression of a world gone terribly wrong only deepens as we follow the main characters' journey from the virus-ravaged streets of London through the desolate countryside to the promised sanctuary.

Performances in 28 Days Later are strong and the characters seem to shift and grow, or shrink, before our very eyes. I must admit I am somewhat of a Cillian Murphy fan and I absolutely loved his portrayal of Jim, who first comes across as baffled and sweet and innocent as you can get, but toward the end moves into a blindingly sharp focus when he vents his rage in a scene which looks like the visual punchline of the entire movie.

The two seasoned pros Gleeson and Eccleston followed suit with poised takes on their respective characters; Frank, the gruff yet protective father who's trying to carve out a niche of sanity in an insane world for his teenage daughter Hanna, and the outrageously callous Major West, who shows no qualms about throwing the women to his sexually starved soldiers or keeping human beings as guinea pigs of sorts.

And my hands-down personal favorite Naomie Harris as the tough black girl, by turns fierce, blunt, charming, vulnerable, who as the story progresses slowly but surely manages to piece her humanity back together only to risk losing it all again.

To sum up, 28 Days Later is a blood-curdling SF drama, featuring an apocalyptic context, which excels in the effective psychological portraits of the main characters, executed with economy of effort and emotional depth, and pull-no-punches tense and plausible plot, which claws and rips its way without a pause through a series of grisly and stunning set-pieces.

Violence, though graphic, is never fetishistic or heavy-handed, and at times it assumes almost mythical resonances - a force in its own right - elemental and all-consuming. Rounded off with Danny Boyle's deft directing, 28 Days Later is bound to haunt your imagination for many many sleepless nights, and angst-ridden days.



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