Directed by: Danny Boyle
Premise: A British citizen (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital after being in a coma for twenty-eight days, and finds that British society has collapsed. Nearly all of Britain’s population has either fled the country or become infected with a highly contagious virus that turns people into rabid, zombie-like creatures.
What Works: 28 Days Later is a picture that redefines the possibilities of the horror film, specifically the zombie subgenre, and of the post-apocalypse film. The picture does not spend its time on the clichés of a naked woman in the shower, going into the basement without a flashlight, or the slaughter of promiscuous teenagers. Instead, 28 Days Later presents the audience with intelligent, credible characters who are dealing with a difficult situation and the film finds the horror both in the visceral danger posed by the infected but also in the sense of loss and in the constant state of fear in which the survivors must live. Naomie Harris stars as the streetwise survivor who guides Cillian Murphy’s character, and the film affords her much more intelligence and respect than female characters are usually given within the horror genre but also within mainstream cinema as well. A lot of post-apocalyptic movies follow the Mad Max model where the survivors have become superheroes, driving fast cars and wearing outlandish outfits. 28 Days Later takes the notion of survival in this environment much more seriously, taking the main characters through the process of providing themselves with food and shelter. The film is also able to address the loss, not only of family and friends, but also of a sense of purpose in life and the need to recover it. This is done very nicely through a father and daughter (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns) who give the film some added humanity and illustrate what has been lost–and what is to be saved–by survival. In the last act of the picture, 28 Days Later takes some new routes and actually undermines some of the traditional conceits of the zombie film. It is a bold move that breaks with expectations and complements some of the existential issues that the rest of the film works with.
What Doesn’t: Although its violence is considerable, 28 Days Later is not as gory as many other zombie films and those expecting the blood baths of films like George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead or Lucio Fuluci’s Zombie may be disappointed.
DVD extras: Commentary track, deleted scenes, alternate endings, a documentary, a music video, storyboards, and picture galleries. The film can also be purchased as a two-disc set with the excellent sequel, 28 Weeks Later.
Bottom Line: 28 Days Later is an important film whose influence can be seen in other genre pictures such as Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men. Aside from being an entertaining film it is a thought provoking exploration of life after tragedy and ultimately it has some affirming things to say about life and human existence.
Episode: #238 (May 10, 2009)