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’28 Days Later’: A daring example in the zombie genre

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28 Days Later
Written by Alex Garland
Directed by Danny Boyle
UK, 2002

There is an absolute basic terror to be found in Danny Boyle’s kinetic, vivid take on zombie films. Upon first viewing, 28 Days Later is one of the most viciously terrifying films made. It’s only on multiple viewings do you begin to see how amazing Boyle was in creating a world inhabited by monsters but made even scarier by the humans still left.

28 Days Later begins with flashing violent images as animal activists attempt to release monkeys from a lab. As a doctor pleads with them, one of the animals attacks. 28 days later, a young man, Jim (Cillian Murphy), wakes up alone, naked, injured in an empty hospital that’s obviously gone through some sort of devastation.

As he wanders an equally deserted and devastated London, he learns from old newspapers that some sort of plague has swept across the world.  He meets an intense and understandably pessimistic woman, Selena (Naomie Harris), a single father (Brendan Gleeson), and his teenage daughter, Hannah (Meghan Burns). They leave the city on the chance that the military signal their receiving from the country is real. What they find is a group of soldiers lead by a man bordering on deranged (Christopher Eccelston).

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There’s an argument, and a valid one, that 28 Days Later isn’t really a zombie movie. It’s much more about human error, fear, and disaster. Some of the film’s most terrifying scenes are the earliest, as Jim wanders through the barren streets; he’s as confused and painfully unaware as the audience is. The scene taps into one of the basic fears we have: being alone, afraid, and knowing that something is wrong, but not knowing what that something is.

It’s up to the audience to decide if this is a zombie film or a plague-based social commentary or somewhere in between; this is one of the many things that gives 28 Days Later its edge. Add in the frantic, breath-stealing energy and vicious pacing; the film is exceptionally entertaining.

In fact, some of the most terrifying moments come at the end of the film. The rain soaked confrontation between Jim and the soldiers captures exactly what Boyle is trying to do with 28 Days Later. In the end, it’s the humanity, or the eventual loss of humanity, that holds the film together. The first part of the film finds Selena taking charge while Jim struggles with losing his family and comfortable life. The end finds Jim becoming an aggressive, deadly “monster” in order to save Selena and Hannah. He is even mistaken for a zombie by Hannah.

From the first scene until the last, it is a perfectly executed film with deeply felt performances. 28 Days Later is unique and fresh. It challenges and often twists conventional zombie film rules, leaving the viewer with a movie that is still potent even after 11 years.

— Tressa Eckermann


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