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Volume 5, Number 28

This Week's Reviews:  28 Days Later...

This Week's Omissions:  The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Danny Boyle

Cillian Murphy
Naomie Harris
Brendan Gleeson
Megan Burns
Christopher Eccleston
Marvin Campbell
Sanjay Rambaruth

Release: 27 Jun. 03

28 Days Later...


The drug-infested commune found in Danny Boyle’s The Beach, based on Alex Garland’s novel, climaxed in what was initially a bit of explosive, rage-induced furor that harkened back to a George A. Romero-level of civil disobedience. But that ending felt limp, too concerned with style to notice that the substance was no longer pertinent. I don’t know if Garland was disappointed with this adaptation of his novel, but I can assume that he at least had some misgivings with the castration of his finale. To rectify this, he wrote an entire screenplay for Boyle about explosive, rage-induced furor harkening back to Romero in 28 Days Later...

Like Romero’s statements on consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later... (not straying terribly far from The Beach, either) glances at a London devoted to Herrod’s and Benetton, a place where the largest landmark in the city is little more than a slow-moving Ferris wheel. For reasons barely known (as it should be), scientists have developed a virus that induces rage in the host. They have infected chimps, who are strapped down as they watch six screens of human violence. They are like mini-commercials for executions, riots, and murder. The enraged monkeys are a captive audience.

A British variant on PETA lets these chimps loose, setting the stage for 28 days of total anarchy, meaning that when Jim (Murphy) wakes in the hospital from a coma, no one except the zombies seem to walk the streets of London. As he treks across an amazingly desolate Trafalgar Square, Jim finds the markings of a plague and an evacuation, collects scattered money, and, in one of the film’s most unsettlingly timely moments, sees a Piccadilly Circus message board filled with homemade signs looking for missing loved ones not unlike the makeshift search fliers that filled New York City doors and walls in the days after 11 September 2001.

All of these images have a lasting impression for the audience. Not only is it unusual to see London so empty, but the whole feel of these shots -- coupled with the amazing song selections and score by John Murphy -- has the impact of the silence after a long, raging storm: you’re not certain if it has passed or if you’re simply at the eye with even more to come. Compare this to a similar sequence in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, which pointlessly presented a scene in an empty Times Square with nary the weight.

Jim, of course, isn’t the only survivor, which is a relief since Murphy is so impassive an actor (as seen in this as well as On the Edge) that by the hour mark I would have been wishing for him to become infected. The party that joins him in a journey to Manchester in hopes of finding a military encampment includes a fiercely rational black woman straight out of a John Carpenter film named Selena (Harris) and a father-daughter pair (Gleeson and Burns) who could be an impediment or a godsend.

Although the film never quite heads for the political/social/cultural jugular as Romero easily did with his three zombie films -- The Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead, all of which are referenced in some way in 28 Days Later... -- the film is an expert work of the horror genre, integrating levels of human anxiety and moral issues of compassion in the face of grave danger without crippling the scary movie appeal of the work. The film’s adult appeal for some intelligence is there, coming to a head as the film leaves the scare tactics for the representation of more human evils.

The film’s final third, which has disappointed many in its wayward function to the ends of a horror film, is actually the film’s strongest touch, bringing in an absolutely amazing actor, Christopher Eccleston, to give one of his best performances and easing the film’s stacking of zombie escape sequences to segue into a different form of terror. It is in this section that the film makes its clearest statements about the human condition -- that sometimes the reaction to the an offense can perhaps be worse than that which begat it (see Dogville, coming to American theatres next year, for an even better conveyance of this idea). 28 Days Later... proves to be more than just a zombie movie, integrating the type of outspoken discourse not seen at such levels since Romero.

©2003, David Perry,, 11 July 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry