Monday, September 5, 2011

Top Of The Genre: 28 Days Later Reinvigorates The Infection And Zombie Genre Films!

The Good: Acting, Plot, CHARACTERS, Realism
The Bad: Volume of blood robs a few key moments of realism
The Basics: When Britain falls victim to its own biological agent, survivors of the plague work hard to outlast the Infected.

If you follow my reviews, you will know I'm not big into horror. Science fiction, I love. Horror, it's a pretty blah genre to me. Too often, it's too predictable, poorly written and it stands up even more poorly than comedy upon rewatching. I had heard decent things about 28 Days Later . . ., though and so I went to see it. You should see it, too. If you are a person who likes character-driven stories where you actually care about the fate of those on the screen, then 28 Days Later . . . is for you.

When a group of animal activists storm a laboratory, they unwittingly set lose a contagion in Britain that causes its victims to rage uncontrollably. Jim awakens in a hospital bed, 28 days after the outbreak began to find his city almost completely abandoned. Confused, dazed and dehydrated, Jim wanders until he finds a church where he discovers victims of the rage and flees for his life. He is rescued by Selena and Mark, two survivors who inform him of Britain's plight. The three band together to survive and the next day, they head to Jim's parent's house where they discover their fate. When the Infected chase them from that haven, Jim and Selena end up at a high rise in the company of Frank and Hannah, a lonely father and his daughter.

Frank plays a radio transmission for Selena and Jim from a military encampment a few days away and the group decides to head for it. In the process, they bond and when they finally meet Major Henry West at the Blockade, they realize that perhaps the Infected are not their only enemies . . .

What makes 28 Days Later . . . so great is that the characters are interesting. Jim acts as pretty much any of us would upon waking up and discovering himself in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. He is confused and scared and his dreams are nightmares of loneliness and abandonment. It makes a great deal of sense; he went to bed and the world abandoned him. Similarly, his lack of endurance at the beginning makes sense for someone hospitalized for a month, as does his ability to quickly work back muscle mass - as would be natural for a bicycle courier.

Jim is not the only interesting one. Selena seems genuine as someone battle-hardened by the way life has treated her for a bloody month. Moreover, her latching onto Jim and his hope reads as very true as well. Similarly, it is not simply director Danny Boyle's obvious Hitler shot of West entering the mess hall that clues us into the fact that something is not right about him, it is the way he treats others, including his infected former-officer.

The acting in 28 Days Later . . . is astounding. Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson play off one another quite organically as a daughter and father. Burns has a great innocence and maturity to her that contrast beautifully to Naomie Harris' Selena. Gleeson's portrayal of Frank as a saddened, passionate man is both comforting and heartwrenching.

Naomie Harris makes Selena into a heroine we can believe in. Without duplicating the acting of other popular, tough heroines, Harris clearly establishes herself as a tough, dependable and almost ruthless presence on the screen. Harris explores Selena's almost mercenaric sensibilities and allows them to find a voice while never crossing the line of being a parody or an archetype.

Christopher Eccleston does a great job at playing West as a cold-blooded survivor without a shred of emotion. Eccleston expertly keeps his difficult facade of stone raised the entire film.

Cillian Murphy steals the show (not only for his repeated nudity) by creating Jim. His facial expressions open the film wonderfully, easily creating an undeniably confused character. Murphy sells us on the classic British post-apocalyptic stranger in his own land. Never does Murphy's performance seem to be rehashing the "type" that has been portrayed in similar films.

In the end, there is very little not to like about 28 Days Later. . . Yes, it's gory, but it is not gratuitous. And certain things are never explained, like why the Infected prefer the night to move about in. But these are minor details that do not detract from the enjoyment of the film. Indeed, it is the lack of explanation that makes the movie seem so real. Jim and Selena are not scientists, thus the reasons do not matter. As survivors, they recognize the symptoms and the problems and how to avoid them, not the causes or the cures. In fact, the only thing that makes no real sense after further contemplation of the movie is how the virus would have reached New York City, as Selena mentions it had.

Even this little detail does not cause the viewer to stop caring or jump out of the film and ask "why?" Instead, director Danny Boyle creates a scenario that is immediately engaging, plunging the viewer into a world where the viewer is actually scared. It is not a predictable film and the movie is more a psychological horror than a "something is going to jump out at me" horror. In fact, Boyle goes a long way to avoid the cheap frights, often giving visual clues to the Infected coming.

Finally, one of the things I enjoyed most about the movie was the reminder that even in the worst of times, humanity's greatest enemy is often itself. 28 Days Later . . . reminds us that in desperation, Man will rise to its greatest heights and sink to its deepest depths. Fortunately, Boyle has the strength to make a film with a great amount of moral ambiguity to allow each viewer to pass Judgment on his characters.

28 Days Later . . . may be enjoyed by anyone who has a tolerance for gore, a passion for good acting and decent characters, and wants to be entertained. This may not be an absolutely perfect film, but it is excellent and by far, the top of the genre.

For other works with Cillian Murphy, please check out my reviews of:
Tron: Legacy
The Dark Knight
Batman Begins


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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