Today is Day 26 and we’re talking about Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later!!
It’s not exactly accurate to call this a “zombie” movie, as many of the usual tropes aren’t on display here. Instead, there’s an Ebola-like disease called Rage that infects people and causes them to be much more aggressive and animalistic than they would otherwise be, granting them what appears to be superhuman speed and agility (I wonder if this movie started the whole “fast” zombie thing?) But then again, there’s obviously many zombie elements on display here, especially what happens if one of these Rage fueled people bite you.
The movie starts out as an animal activist group breaks in a laboratory with the intent to release caged lab monkeys. One of the workers there pleads for this not to happen because, according to him, the monkeys have been infected (most likely through various lab tests and studies) and doing so will cause a massive epidemic. The group doesn’t listen, and one is immediately killed in an attack. Flash forward 28 days later, and Jim (played by Cillian Murphy) wakes up all alone in a hospital, extremely confused (I’m not sure if The Walking Dead was inspired by this or not). As he leaves the empty hospital, he discovers that all of London is completely deserted. When he finally discovers people in a church, he’s surprised to discover that they’re all infected, and they all seemingly want to kill him. Even a priest tries to attack him!
As Jim tries to outrun these red-eyed crazy people, he is suddenly aided by Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). They help him out and bring him up to speed, though details are sketchy. It seems no one knows the true scope of the virus just yet, and whether or not it’s contained just to England or if it has spread to America. This is their new bleak world, where surviving is all you can do and happiness is a luxury they no longer have. Eventually, they run into Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) and form a family of sorts. When they hear a broadcast, sent from what is apparently a safe haven, they decide to make their way to it, hoping against hope things will be different once they get there.
There are a lot of things I like about this movie. The acting is solid all around, and I really love the idea of a social rage as the culprit rather than just some generic explanation we usually get in zombie movies. It’s more realistic and really works overall. But my favorite part, by far, is the opening scenes in an abandoned London. It’s haunting and really separates this film from nearly all others. It’s not an effect either; they legitimately closed off sections of London to film their scenes. It’s quite remarkable.
What’s not so remarkable, and something I have never understood, is the way this movie was shot, which was on inexpensive, prosumer digital cameras (mainly the Canon XL-1, I believe). Now, digital video has come a LONG way since 2002 and in many cases, can be nearly identical to film, but here, it was still new technology and is extremely distracting. These are standard definition cameras, with a low dynamic range, and it’s just an awful mess visually. If Danny Boyle wanted more realism, he could have gone the route of Michael Mann in Public Enemies and made the sound design be awful as well. Again, I think Public Enemies is a terrible, terrible movies but at least it sucks consistently on video and audio. Here, Boyle still uses professional audio equipment, coupled with all kinds of expensive gear to physically move the cameras, so he didn’t really stay true to a documentary type feel, if that’s even what he was going for. Essentially, it sounds like a big budget movie and has some professional camera tricks, but is marred by horrendous imagery and low resolution, muddy textures. It adds nothing to the movie for me what-so-ever and was especially problematic when I saw it in theaters because blown-up, it looks even worse. The style basically dates this movie to a time before inexpensive HD cameras were a thing, let alone something we carry around in our pockets. The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was shot on 16mm and looks 1000x better, while still maintaining a gritty, raw texture so it could have worked here as well. In fact, imagine if those empty streets of London had been captured on 16mm, or Heaven forbid, 35mm. I think we’d have been talking about the Oscar winning cinematography at that point.
Still, the bleak tone of the film works quite well, and the imagery of London is impressive, so I’d say check it out for those reasons alone. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the look of it.