28 Days Later is a modern zombie flick which effortlessly rises above the standard Hollywood teen horror fare. Director Danny Boyle teams up once again with writer Alex Garland (the same partnership which produced the Beach) to bring us this energetic and hugely enjoyable film.
Anyone longing for a modern answer to the classic Romero trilogy of the dead need look no further than this. A nasty virus has been unleashed on human society after an animal welfare breakout, at a British research facility, went badly wrong. Just 28 days later the country is in a desperate state, most people have been killed or succumbed to the virus which locks the victim into an uncontrollable murderous rage. A handful of survivors battle to find some kind of respite from the terrifying hordes but the remaining humans are just as dangerous as the zombies.
The film is full of memorable images and features some beautifully directed scenes, perhaps most memorably at the beginning of the piece when our hero, Jim, awakens in hospital to find the place deserted and wanders through the centre of London, past an overturned double-decker bus, without seeing a single soul. There is plenty of action too and it is equally well put together; hordes of slavering red eyed zombies with too much energy are never far away.
The infected masses are well realised, if a little obvious. Although they are essentially zombies they are imbued with more speed and grace than zombies usually have and this makes them a more potent threat. The tension is built up nicely as Jim realises that something has gone badly wrong, luckily for him a couple of renegades with a stash of homemade weapons save him from a nasty death and so the three set out to find whatever is left of humanity.
The film succeeds as a horror where teen slashers fail because it retains a level of seriousness throughout. Like the Dawn of the Dead you get weary with the combatants and to some extent experience the gruelling ordeal they are facing. The effect of an outbreak of this kind is intelligently explored, different characters have different strategies for coping with the situation and there are some genuinely touching moments between the rag-tag band of survivors. I particularly liked the scene where Jim goes in search of his parents and finds that they have chosen to commit suicide together rather than succumb to the virus. The two corpses lie hand in hand on the bed as shafts of light break through the curtains giving no hint of the horror outside.
The whole film is brilliantly directed; Boyle continues to improve and introduces the same frenetic energy here as was evident in his earlier efforts, Trainspotting and The Beach. The plot starts out well and degenerates a little as the film progresses and if I had to criticise then it would be the ending that I would pick on. For the most part the writing is excellent and does a tremendous job of tying together a varied cast of characters. Scenes of shocking violence are well balanced with the emotional drama and the action moves at quite a pace despite a relatively small budget.
The acting is very good from a cast of largely unknowns. The main character you might recognise is Christopher Eccleston who does a decent job as the Army Commander. Cillian Murphy is especially good as Jim and I thought Alexander Delamare did an excellent job as Mr Bridges but the rest of the cast are good too.
The resolution is definitely not the most satisfying and the idea that humans who are freaking out in the face of disaster can become more dangerous than the disaster itself is a little too familiar. The first half or so of the film is hugely enjoyable but I found the entire army encounter felt awkwardly tagged on, almost like a separate film. Even although it probably included the bulk of the action the end of the film just didn´t work and after the exciting promise of the first half hour I found it really disappointing.
Despite the bad points I still really like this film, in a glut of brainless self-parodying decay left behind by the great slasher movies of the late seventies and early eighties this shines out like a nugget of gold. This is a rare type of film and well worth watching, Boyle´s take on the apocalyptic zombie/survivor horror is a valiant effort, I´d say - could do better but thanks for trying.