28 Days Later
The whole premise of this film can be summed up in two words: Running Zombies. That’s not to denigrate this cool B-movie with A-movie ambitions, but that’s what it is. And it’s a great premise, even if similar films like the remade Dawn of the Dead have watered it down some by repetition.
This movie is set in England, where a group of animal rights’ activists unwittingly unleash a ‘Rage’ virus that decimates the whole country, leaving anyone who gets it as ‘The Infected’. The Infected are very angry, bloodthirsty ‘zombies’, by any other name.
The hero of this movie, played nicely by Cillian Murphy, has been in an accident, and wakes up 28 days later, finding the place deserted. And when I say place, I don’t mean some little-out-of-the-way hospital, I mean London. He wanders empty London streets in daylight, passing overturned buses, trying to make sense of it.
Finally he encounters other people and these running, raging zombies, and starts to understand what has happened. The survivors show him – graphically – how you have to be ruthless against anyone who might be infected without mercy if you yourself are to survive. More survivors are encountered, and finally they find themselves going northwards, following a faint radio broadcast.
They encounter, after losses, an army unit holed up against the Infected. But things aren’t quite as you’d expect…
I won’t say any more, but this is a film of two halves. The first half is absolutely terrific, and if you’d only seen that, you’d be not far wrong thinking it was one of the best horror movies ever. First, you get our hero wandering an empty London. This is completely startling (especially to someone like me, from London), as is the first contact with the ‘Infected’. These are scary monsters. The old-school shambling zombies are creepy and tend to build tension (you only die if you get complacent or careless with those guys), but these running zombies are terrifying, with no easy way to stop them, knowing one bit of contact with them might turn you the same…
Finally, the survivors decide to move on, following a broadcast radio message, and travel through London to get to the northbound motorway, and hit the quiet country and roads, and there’s a sense of both peace and dread. Finally they hit a roadblock, and meet an army troupe.
This marks the end of the first, great half of the movie. There are lots of distinct and clear homages/echoes of other apocalyptic and zombie movies. Day of the Triffids, The original Romero Zombie films (especially Dawn of the Dead in the first half), The Omega Man, The Last Warrior, The Quiet Earth, as well as the Richard Matheson’s book ‘I am Legend’. It’s startling, scary and engrossing, and shows some of the pain and fear, as well of the humanity and sacrifice of humanity, of the survivors in a satisfying and engrossing way.
In the second half, when the soldiers are encountered, the film, which to me had tremendous potential to go anyway it chose at this point, seemed to close itself down. The soldiers were mostly stupid and unsympathetic (though the only good new thing about the second half is the watchable Chrisopher Eccleston as the commanding officer), and the whole plot was similar, but significantly inferior to, Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’; bickering soldiers and civilians trying to understand what to do, and not knowing what’s left of the world and whether they will be rescued.
While it continues at a steady pace, and resolves reasonably well, the film is unsatisfying for the disparity between the fantastic first half and the formulaic second half. Overall though, it’s a solid horror movie that’ll scare and entertain. And really deserves to be seen because of the brilliant and near-hypnotic-in-places first half.
And great music!
This movie is not for the faint-hearted though.
REWATCHABILITY: Once or twice a year. Suitable for older teens up.