Could 28 Days Later be the perfect movie?
It’s likely to appeal to the average moviegoer after a good time and the Roger Avary/Steven Soderbergh-worshipping film student anxious to watch mastery of the craft.
It’s got something for the discerning viewer endlessly on the lookout for some hard drama and emotion instead of the usual Hollywood action drivel, but if you want a trip to the movies to be a rollicking good roller-coaster time you’re equally catered for.
It has got very deep human themes and plenty of blood and guts. A vulnerability rarely seen in movie heroes anymore and soldiers mowing down monsters with machine guns.
If it isn’t a perfect movie, it’s the nearest thing to it we’re likely to see this year.
The hit and miss duo of director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach) have effortlessly jammed several of modern moviemaking’s trappings into a feature length film.
They pay homage to a classic genre (the schlocky 1970’s Italian zombie horror film) and use the hottest filmmaking technology and techniques. They portray human frailty as beautifully and clearly as any Hollywood drama and slake our thirst for action and excitement at the same time.
Shot entirely on digital video (which gives the picture the grainy, gritty look so many cyberpunk directors love but also heightens the tension and sense of movement), it introduces us to a group of animal rights activists who’ve broken into a university to free a group of imprisoned chimps.
The scientist who catches them in the act pleads with them to stop — the animals are infected with a psycho-chemical condition he describes as ‘rage’.
They ignore him, the crazed primates attack and escape, and we join the hero Jim after waking up in a hospital bed 28 days later. We follow him out of the deserted hospital into an equally deserted city, and are treated to astounding pictures of central London completely devoid of life.
In a starkly realistic last-man-alive scenario, Jim stumbles across innumerable corpses in a church and a priest — seemingly driven mad with anger like an animal and bleeding from the eyes — who attacks him.
We learn the whole story along with the confused and frightened Jim, a former cycle courier, as he meets other survivors, learns the truth about the ‘rage’ virus that has virtually wiped out the whole of the island of Britain and tries to survive.
Together, they meet others and form a small band that tries to reach the only hope of salvation — a radio signal from a platoon of soldiers holed up near Manchester.
They reach apparent safety only for fresh horror to break out, and one of the film’s essential morals becomes clear — we’re all potentially monsters except for the protective cloak of civilisation that distinguishes the last survivors in England from the zombie hordes stalking them throughout the country.
With a cast of newcomers and little-knowns, Boyle and Garland have together created something very special — a classic B grade (but essentially timeless) idea dropped in the middle of a very modern and serious backdrop (similar to the apparent thinking behind M Night Shyamalan’s Signs, only better).
Wondering how they managed the apocalyptic scenes of England deserted and in ruins is worth the ticket price alone. In actual fact, filming was done at daybreak with police holding traffic back off-camera for only five minutes at a time.
The masterful camerawork create a palpable mood and effect as we wander groggily and fearfully around London with Jim (in a hospital smock and with stitches still in his head) desperately calling ‘hello?’ to anyone who’ll answer. From then on, the plot grabs you and doesn’t let up for a minute.
The locations and effects are fantastically abrasive, keeping the production from being an Independence Day-type spectacle but also rescuing it from the hemmed-in look a low budget curses any science fiction film with.
The cast all do a brilliant job thanks to an extremely well written script and are supported in full by their bleak surroundings. 28 Days Later returns the credibility the Boyle/Garland team had trouble holding onto after Trainspotting.
When your parents told you how scared they were at Saturday matinees seeing UFOs suspended by fishing line crash into models of the White House and guys in cheap Octopus suits clamber out of lagoons to terrorise mankind, you’ll finally understand what it felt like.