Star Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
28 Days Later is one of those films in the same vein as Fight Club; its gritty and violent as it explores the dark side of humanity, but more importantly you wonder how so many people could go so long without seeing such an excellent film. It’s another great example of what can be achieved in cinema with so little to work with. Directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland and starring Cillian Murphy as Jim, 28 Days Later tells the story of a small group of survivors in London 28 days after a zombie outbreak.
At first glance this film looks like something a film student might make as his or her final project (today), and it very well could be, but at the time this film was a technical marvel by being one of the first films shot entirely in digital. It has been noted by the producer, Andrew MacDonald, that the use of digital cameras vs the traditional film cameras is what made this film possible due to the portability of the cameras and the tightness of the shooting schedule. This also gives the film the same effect as a “found-footage” film, without the shakiness and irritating voice behind the camera. The fuzzy picture and sharp depth of field give the illusion of a third party who has also survived this viral outbreak and its filming it all for the sake of keeping records.
Since the film is the furthest thing from a flashy blockbuster, all of the emotional weight of the film is on the actors performances. Cillian Murphy is intense and brooding and quiet as he just observes everything happening around him. During the opening scene of the film when Jim is walking around an empty London, the various camera angles and his actions create a feeling of loneliness by showing how immense the buildings are that surround him. By the time Jim meets Selena (Naomie Harris), we are surprised to see any other people alive. Selena is emotionally hardened when we meet her and has a very pragmatic viewpoint. This causes her to say and do some pretty harsh things, but by the end we see the most dynamic change from her character out of everyone else in the film. Perhaps, my only complaint in terms of characterization is that the soldiers don’t necessarily carry the same emotional weight as the rest of the core cast, but I will not fault the film for this since they are merely static characters for the sake of plot development.
For a zombie movie, there are only about 12-20 actual zombies in the entire film. This film is more about the aftermath of a zombie outbreak than it is the outbreak itself. The film assumes that the zombies have done their worst and now only a handful of survivors are left. This provides ample room from a story about humanity and less about survival. Once the film reaches the halfway mark, the focus on Jim, Selena, Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and Hannah (Megan Burns) is shifted from survival to a story about the raw savagery humans can show in the face of global catastrophe. The soldiers, who were once tasked with protecting the weak in the face of crisis are now the ones committing vile acts against anyone who stands in their way. As a result, this film begs the question, who is worse during a zombie outbreak, the humans who turn towards animalistic cruelty, or the zombies? When the true intentions of the soldiers are revealed, we see Jim change from a passive individual who rarely took action before to the only one doing what was right in the face of trying evil.
28 Days Later is a prime example of a great movie. The story is focused less on the what, and more on the depth of the story itself. Not only does it take the zombie mythos to greater and different places than what has been seen (prior to this film), it delves deep into the characters and examines who they are during a trying time. I would not necessarily categorize 28 Days Later as a horror movie, although I know many people will and do, but rather it is a drama taking place in a horror setting. There is one scene towards the beginning that shows a gas station blowing up, and I imagine that is where a majority of the effect budget went, because apart from that scene we see very little man vs. zombie action.
Another positive point for this movie is the ambiguous ending. Contrary to a more recent zombie movie (World War Z), 28 Days Later, leaves the ending up for interpretation. It can be hopeful or it can be hopeless. Do the protagonists really survive? Was the outbreak really quarantined to London and the rest of the world survived? Or, do the protagonists end up left for dead in the english countryside? Are they just getting the attention of another despicable military group?
28 Days Later is easily one of the best films I have seen this season. Everything about the film has been stripped down to a bear bones story about a select group of people during a zombie outbreak. Not only does it show what humans do together in order to overcome the zombies, it also shows what humans are willing to do to each other during such a time. Like all great films it leaves the viewer with questions, specifically questions about the nature of good and evil. It makes you wonder, what makes us human and what separates us from the zombies?