28 Days Later
I’ve professed my love for the zombie genre and while I could easily go on and on about the various merits of this film, I’ll do my best to just stick with a simple review.
Before that though, I feel obligated to defend calling this a zombie film, because this is the internet and people like to argue. 28 Days Later is a zombie film. My senior thesis revolved around zombies. I spent enough time reading and watching movies that I have no problem calling 28 Days Later a zombie film. Reason why? Zombies are not a specifically defined entity. That term is used quite broadly. What a zombie is, is fairly sketchy. 28 Days Later qualifies because t contains elements frequently associated with zombie films and literature.
28 Days Later is all in the title. Twenty eight days after an infection breaks out in England, we see Jim, a bike courier who was hit by a bus and is in a coma during these twenty-eight days. He wakes up in an abandoned hospital and wanders around a deserted London until he runs into a few other survivors and things move along. It’s not that complicated.
The beginning of the film is incredibly strong though. The opening in the lab gets glossed over more than it should. It sets up quite a bit on how you should perceive things throughout the film and it is very blatantly addressing current issues. I mean if you are one of my former students you are going to argue that 28 Days Later is not about zombies, it is infected people. This is a whole issue that I may get into elsewhere. Regardless on what exactly a zombie is, there is a clear choice made in how these beings should be perceived and depending on your perception it does change the film.
What everyone remembers about 28 Days Later is from the trailer and posters. Those images of an empty London with Cillian Murphy walking around in scrubs. It’s great and it is a shame that it does look crappy. The entire movie was shot on a DV camcorder, something anyone can own. Hence why the movie does look shitty apart from the ending. 1 Honestly, I kinda wish the movie had not been shot that way, because there are some gorgeous visual moments that would have been wonderful if captured with better equipment and those wandering shots of the empty streets of London are a great example. 2
What makes 28 Days Later great is because of the film’s start. It is empty. You really do not see horde’s of zombies. This is not the beginning of the end, it is twenty-eight days later. Everyone is pretty much gone one way or another. Instead you follow a very small group of survivors. The benefit of this is you get to actually know them a bit. Spoiler ~ but, Mark, who we really only see for a few minutes on-screen, leaves a quite an impact before he’s offed. He’s the third “normal” person you see in the aftermath and he dies quickly, yet he has a story. In those few minutes you get to know him on an emotional level.
That is why Jim is an amazing character. Yes, Cillian Murphy does a great job, but that character is brilliant and writers should take note of Jim’s purpose in the film. He is the audience. He is our surrogate. Sure we see how the rage virus starts, but that’s it. We wake up with him in that hospital. We don’t know what the hell happened. We can guess. 3 As he wanders around London, we see the devastation for the first time. While Jim doesn’t quite catch on to the whole zombie apocalypse thing, we at least learn that this isn’t a normal zombie flick. There is no horde roaming the streets, shuffling about moaning for brains. Selena and Mark give Jim and the audience the rundown on what the hell happened. The entire movie, we follow Jim. There rarely is an instance when we follow a character and Jim is not there. 4 It’s a great storytelling technique for one, and it is even better for a horror film where you are trying to keep the audience out of the loop.
What also makes this film great is Danny Boyle. Again, it is all about the details. The little things. Again back to the beginning of the film when we are in the lab. Those wide shots of an empty London. Those locations are key. There is meaning behind where Jim walks apart from just showing you that you are in London and no one is home, not even the stupid tourists. I mean there is no more blatant example of this than the family of horses. As beautiful as that moment is, I kinda hate simply because it just sticks out. Honestly, I wish Boyle had just captured the horses running and left it at that. Having the characters talk about it just ruins the moment and makes it painstakingly obvious. Other great points is the fact that Selena and Hanna where red dresses, which has endless interpretations for symbolism and it is a practical choice. Bright red stands out. One of my favorite moments of Boyle’s focus on the little things is the statue in the mansion. Anyone notice that statue? It is quite big and you see it pretty frequently. I mean that entrance way gets a lot of action and that statue is usually in the frame. It’s Laocoön and His Sons. Look it up on Wikipedia if you want.
Then there’s the zombies. The infected. I already touched on this somewhat in my post, How Do You Like Zack? Boyle brings us fast zombies. That alone has a huge impact on the film and honestly, I love talking about zombies. What they are, the differently variations and how that impacts a story. Even the slightest variation or action with how an author choses to model their zombie changes the whole scope of the project. Boyle brings us the infected. They are not zombies. No on calls them zombies, they are just people who are infected. As Christopher Eccleston’s character points out, nothing has changed. People are still killing people, because in 28 Days Later there are no undead or living dead, but rather a glimpse at what humans really are.
I want to warp this up since I have already gone on to long without really getting deep into anything. 5 If have to mention the score though. I love John Murphy and you should too. He is a great man who is wonderful at creating pieces of music that just make a film so wonderful. The ending of the film, In the House – In a Heartbeat, phenomenal. An extraordinary climax that would not be the same without that John Murphy song (titled “In the House – In a Heartbeat.” Those scenes are so powerful, but what sticks with you is that piece. It’s something I listen to constantly while writing. While I’m at it you should also check out another great piece of his from the film Sunshine. It’s called Kaneda’s Death pt. 2 (Adagio in D minor). Note: the clip below is the actual scene from the movie, so if you don’t want to see it look for a clip of just the song.
28 Days Later is great. Watch it, then watch it again and really pay attention. Then just sit back and thick about it for a moment. Let the film sink in and actually process what Boyle is trying to get across.
- Spoiler. When the plane flies by. Worth it to read this? ↩
- Would have been badass to have Malick work on that. ↩
- Obviously we have a better idea since we are in fact watching a movie. ↩
- I believe the only instances are the end at the house and before that, when Brendan Gleeson dies. ↩
- Believe my this isn’t deep. Read my thesis for a more probing look at zombies. ↩