Having recently made my peace with the idea that zombies can come in a variety of states and speeds, I thought it would be a good time to revisit 28 Days Later (2002)… a post-apocalyptic horror flick set in this septic isle, almost a month after the outbreak of a catastrophically catchy virus that swiftly infected the unsuspecting population with PURE RAGE!!! Whether this technically makes them “zombies” or not is still the subject of fierce, geeky debate… and really the set-up of a lone, oblivious survivor waking in a hospital bed to find everything has gone to hell around him owes as much to John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, as it does to any of Romero’s genre entries. I didn’t actually consider how illogical the behaviour of the “monsters” here was, until I checked IMDb’s “Goofs” page, and read the comments there: Generally speaking zombies don’t attack other zombies, because they only crave the flesh of the living… but here there’s no real explanation for why the Infected only ever attack uninfected people. If they’re just rabid crazies, then why aren’t they tearing each other to bits? Or just randomly attacking inanimate objects? Hmmm… That potential plot-hole aside, if you can suspend your disbelief, or simply accept the premise on a less literal level, there’s a great deal to recommend this film.
The one thing it does better than most zombie-flicks and TV shows I’ve seen (particularly the early seasons of The Walking Dead) is to quickly establish likeable and sympathetic survivor characters, who we can become genuinely attached to, and concerned for. There’s a good-humoured sweetness and upbeat humanity to the way that they interact, and the script successfully mixes romance in with all the requisite running and screaming and shooting. It’s a film that proudly and defiantly declares that there’s more to living than simply not dying… even when you’re threatened with imminent, ugly death at every turn. It also neatly reverses traditional gender roles: The male protagonist, ‘Jim’ (Cillian Murphy), is a submissive and sentimental optimist, whose skin is repeatedly saved by a callous and courageous ass-kicking-chick, played by Naomie Harris. Granted, ‘Selena’ does soften somewhat over the course of the story, and occasionally require rescuing herself… but I don’t think there’s any shame in that. The relationship that develops between the two of them is really the heart and soul of the film, and it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or effective without that arc.*
My one complaint would be that I find the visual presentation quite off-putting… I gather from the “making of” featurette, that director Danny Boyle deliberately chose to use grainy digital video and a choppy editing style to give it an “urban” edge… to make it more “real”… and maybe that works for some viewers, but it just looked kinda cheap and crappy to me. Thankfully the performances are so strong and the characters so engaging, they keep you hooked despite all the shaky camera-work… and it’s no surprise that Murphy and Harris have both gone on to have extremely busy and successful careers since being plucked from (relative) obscurity to play the leads here.
Note: Despite Boyle bragging on the DVD that they had a stills photographer on set with them almost every day of the shoot, there are depressingly few decent photos from this film to be found anywhere on the net. Meh.
* SPOILER: Because I’m a sucker for happily-ever-afters, I’m very grateful they didn’t choose to go with the downbeat endings that are included as extras on the DVD… I also refuse to acknowledge the existence of the sequel film, or the spin-off comic books. Boo to them!