28 Days Later
- Cillian Murphy as Jim
- Naomie Harris as Selena
- Brendan Gleeson as Frank
- Christopher Eccleston as Major Henry West
- Megan Burns as Hannah
- Noah Huntley as Mark
Danny Boyle’s intensely mounted and terrifying horror 28 Days Later successfully delivers shocks, scares and relatable characters trying to survive in a world of post-apocalyptic wreckage. Sharply scripted and genuinely frightening, it is zombie horror at its finest.
In the beginning, a group of animal activists break into a secret research facility where chimpanzees are being held and experimented on. Despite the warnings of a scientist who catches them that the primates are infected with a highly contagious and violent virus, the trio opens the cages and are subsequently and brutally attacked. 28 days later in a London hospital, a bicycle courier by the name of Jim wakes from a coma. Dazed, he wanders out into the streets where he is greeted by a grim silence and everywhere deserted. Just as he is making a connection of what happened, he is attacked by a ravenous hoard of zombies. Thankfully, he is saved by Selena and Mark, who take him to refuge. The unflinching and very tough Selena explains that while Jim was in a coma, the highly contagious rage virus spread like wildfire among the population, resulting in death and collapse of society. The infected can spread the virus through blood and biting Jim is warned. Moving from place to place with the two survivors, Jim sees how dangerous the situation is when Mark is infected and Selena kills him. They are joined later by optimistic cab driver Frank and his young but very mature daughter Hannah. Continually moving and dodging attacks from the infected, through a radio broadcast, the quartet hears of alleged safety provided by an army camp. But with the virus quickly spreading and supplies dwindling, can the group survive when they come to see that this supposed safety they have been promised could be just as dangerous as the hoards of ravenous zombies on their tail?
Danny Boyle delivers kinetic direction that puts the audience right in the middle of the savagery and battle for survival. Yet what really impressed me about his directing was the way that he kept the pace going but didn’t ignore the character development. Boyle uses these flourishes to punctuate 28 Days Later with moments of tenderness between the core characters, before unleashing the hellish threat of infection and violence upon them. The tight script also gives the characters real emotion that makes us want them to survive the horrific ordeal. The roving camerawork highlights the race for survival and how these characters are on the move constantly. A grimy visual style creates a darkly authentic portrait of society gone to ruin, in an almost allegorical way. Haunting images abound but nothing beats the eerie silence and genuine sense of discomfort emitted from the scenes of Jim walking around an abandoned London seeing that the world he once knew has been altered. There is something so chilling about those scenes that I can’t put my finger on. And 28 Days Later deserves credit for the redesign of the usual sloping zombies in the horror genre. Here they are fast-moving and very frightening things and seeing them will stay in your head for a long time. A dark score of ambience and ever-growing intensity keeps the pace of the film ticking over and induces goosebumps in the process. I think it’s fair to say that 28 Days Later is not just another zombie movie, it has more to it than that and it rises above many other films in the genre.
Cillian Murphy wonderfully portrays the disoriented and shocked nature of Jim, who awakens to find his world upside down and very dangerous. Murphy makes the character sympathetic as well as capable of surviving these dire circumstances he has been thrust into. Making a very strong impact is Naomie Harris in her performance as Selena. A battle hardened fighter who doesn’t beat around the bush and won’t back down, Harris excellently gives voice to a character that has resided herself to the fact that she must do whatever she can to go on living and how weakness is not an option. Lighting up the supporting cast is Brendan Gleeson displaying gruff charm and affable kindness as Frank, who manages to find something to smile about most of the time despite the situation he is in. A slimy turn from Christopher Eccleston as a corrupt major who poses another dangerous threat to the group brings another face of shock to the piece. The only real acting casualties in this film are a bland Megan Burns and an underused Noah Huntley. Other than that, the cast is strong and very reliable.
Intense, deeply unsettling and brutally compelling, 28 Days Later is one effective slice of terror.