28 Days Later (2002)

28 days later poster

The zombies are fast.

It’s true that in Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later the crazed, flesh-eating villains aren’t technically zombies. In fact, Boyle has gone to great lengths to qualify them as humans infected with a virus known as RAGE. Yet, to this reviewer at least, the differences seem moot. In traditional zombie pictures, and in this film the creatures are mindless, they carry a real zeal for human flesh, they have a predilection for turning everyone else into their like, and they are fairly easy to kill. Whether the creatures are the living dead so to speak, or infected by an incurable virus doesn’t make much of a difference. Though the zombies here, seem updated from their cinematic ancestors.

These zombies are fast.

Traditional zombies are a slow-moving lot. Having been rotting in their own graves for untold years, their reanimated flesh is a little atrophied, causing them to move at a slow, sluggish pace. This has always been a helpful plot point for the heroes in zombie films, for they are easy to run away from. In fact, zombies are generally able to kill their victims through sheer numbers. Individually they are easy to destroy, but as an oncoming onslaught, the sheer numbers win every time.  Boyle circumvented this convenience by allowing his monsters to run at normal human speeds. It is an excellent update to the genre, giving the ability for more scares.

Man, I dug the first half of this movie. Well, except for the very, very beginning. The opening scene gives us the origin of RAGE, with a bunch of Clockwork Orange-inspired monkeys. I’ve never really dug origin scenes in zombie flicks. I think it’s much scarier to just have the zombies running around eating brains, without any reason for their existence. Origins, generally, just seem dumb. And here, with the infected monkeys being freed by some Green Peace types doesn’t really inspire any other feelings. Though, I suspect it was another move to plant this film outside the zombie track.

But after the scene of the dumb origin, things get really good. We’ve got a naked guy named Jim (Cillian Murphy) hooked up to various tubes in a hospital bed. I always like it when there is a bit of male nudity in a flick since there is always so much of the female variety. Anyways, Jim gets out of bed and wanders the streets of London. There are plenty of shots of Jim (fully clothed now) walking by big famous London monuments without another soul around. It seems London has been vacated. It is creepy and effective.

In a bit, Jim clamors into a church figuring to find some sanctuary, or at least have a few questions answered. What he finds is a bunch of dead folks piled up. In a good holy crap moment, Jim says, “Hello” to find a couple of the dead guys not so dead and jumping up. From there until the second half of the film, it is a constant run from the zombies.

The zombies really work in this film. They are fast, furious, and vicious. Jim eventually teams up with some other survivors and they set about trying to figure out what to do. Boyle really does a great job of adding tension to the film and keeping the scares up.

Then the film changes.

The group is rescued by a gang of all-male military types, living in a compound. Turns out the military types are a bunch of psychos and the film turns from being a zombie flick into being a stranded-in-a-compound-with-a-bunch-of-psycho-military-types kind of film. To make sure we know this is no longer a zombie flick, a big group of zombies launches an attack on the compound only to be massacred with machine guns and land mines.

In this half of the film, I don’t dig nearly as much. Zombie flicks always have trouble filling out their whole hour-and-a-half time slot. Even with a good introduction of characters, and a slow build to zombie free-for-all, there is still plenty of filler time. Here, the filmmakers seem to have decided that they might as well dump the zombies and give us some other tension-filled concoction. But, there isn’t really enough time to develop the military end of the story and it feels wrong.

It’s too bad too because that first half was really promising.

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