In Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), a group of well-intentioned animal-rights activists set a chain of events in motion and ultimately cause the downfall of England- and maybe the world!- just like we always knew they would. Entering a laboratory in the dark of night, the activists release a bunch of monkeys and the such from all manner of cages and machinery. Shockingly, these chimps don't act like Clyde whatsoever- instead of mugging and sticking out their tongues, they go on the attack and make with the chomp chomp (le chomp-chomp, as the French call it). They've been infected with "rage", you see, which makes them mad...and bitey. Soon enough, virtually the entire population of England is mad and bitey and everything goes straight to h-e-double-hockey-sticks.
28 days later (omigawd, wait...that's the name of the movie!), Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a wee coma, only to find himself alone...alone and naked...in a devastated London. I've always wondered- why is he naked in his hospital bed? Did someone snatch his little hospital johnnie during the chaos of the infection outbreak? Or is it, like, a British thing? You know, like how they wear those wigs in the courtroom? Maybe all comatose patients must be nude?
Anyway, Jim explores the city, clueless as to what transpired while he was naked. Eventually he meets up with some peeps and they all decide to head to a survival outpost headed up by the Army. Upon reaching the camp, though, they find that the Army has gone mad- mad, I tells ya! Jim and Company have escaped the infected- but will they escape from the clutches of the camouflaged uninfected? Who will survive and what will be left of them?
Boyle's film (written by frequent collaborator Alex Garland) is often credited with rejuvenating the sagging zombie subgenre; this film is not tongue-in-cheek, and these zombies (and yes, they're not really zombies, I know, but it's sort of easier simply to describe them that way, all right?) are relentless, vicious, and they run. Yes, we can all thanks Boyle for spawning the "fast vs slow" zombie debate. Take a little bit of I Am Legend, a whole lot of George Romero, and you've got yourself one entertaining horror flick.
Yeah, a whole lot of Romero. While the "infected with rage" angle is fresh, the plot of 28 Days Later essentially apes (or is it pays homage to?) the story arc of Romero's Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn, and Day) in 100 minutes. 'Tis true. As in Night of the Living Dead, our protagonist is suddenly thrust into a nightmare as zombies go on the attack. Both Jim of 28 Days and Barbara (Judith O'Dea) of Night have to seek shelter as they try to figure out what's going on; eventually they become part of a plucky band of survivors who need to overcome their differences if they're going to stay alive.
28 Days recalls Dawn of the Dead as the band of survivors adjusts (as much as they can, anyway) to the "new" world. At times they border on complacency, but every once in a while they're confronted with the "infected", reminding them that things are no longer "normal". 28 Days even goes so far as to include a giddy "everything's free!" scene and a refueling-the-transportation sequence in which Jim must kill a child (as did Peter [Ken Foree] in Dawn), showing the extremes to which people will have to go in this zombified society in order to survive.
Obviously the last third of 28 Days is quite reminiscent of Day of the Dead- the Army has established a zombie-proof outpost, but the Army are more savage than the zombies themselves; who are the monsters? We are them and they are us! They've also captured a member of the infected in order to study and understand the enemy. Eventually, however, an act of sabotage within results in the barricades being breached, and the audience cheers as the Army jerks get what's coming to them.
I love the first half of this film. The sequences where Jim wanders the empty streets of London, alone and confused, are absolutely haunting. When he finally encounters the infected, it's nothing short of exhilarating- running zombies do get your blood pumping much more than the Romero Shufflers.
Omigawd, I want to start a band called The Romero Shufflers.
Though I've pointed out the echoes of the Dead trilogy in the film, 28 Days Later has a bit more character development than any of Romero's films. In truth, we don't learn very much about Jim, Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and Hannah (Megan Burns), but we end up caring for them regardless. There's more than a few heartbreaking moments in the film- quieter moments that put a personal touch on the tragedy.
The last third of the film- the Army bits- fall a little flat for me, as I felt I knew what was coming. The "we are them and they are us" theme has been approached in countless horror films, and I was just sort of waiting for the soldiers to get their comeuppances. It's still a good ride, however, and the attack sequences are vicious nail-biters- though you think you're seeing far more than you actually do.
28 Days Later can absolutely be credited with reviving the zombie film- it's the Scream of its respective subgenre. It's also a horror nerd's kind of film, as it inspires countless horror nerd discussions- what makes a zombie? Fast or slow zombies? And of course...
What's up with the nudie coma?