This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
Day twenty-six skips the apocalypse to explore the aftermath 28 Days Later.
Romero’s Dead meets Wyndham’s Triffids in 28 Days Later, the humanist post-zombie-apocalyptic drama from Danny Boyle. Starring a – then – little known Cillian Murphy as a man who wakes from an operation to find his world ravaged by zombies, the film welds a found footage aesthetic and moderate pace with bursts of frenetic energy. It’s a visual triumph, sizzling political allegory and thoroughly engaging advancement of genre iconography.
From a first-time script by novelist Alex Garland – later of Ex Machina and Annihilation renown – Boyle opens with a stall-setting montage of riot footage, which, a pan out reveals, is being screened to chimpanzees at a Cambridge research centre. The point being that living humans are quite capable of bringing about their own destruction, without the aid of aliens of the undead. Sure enough, when a trio of animal rights protesters attempt to free the apes, we learn that each carries a highly infectious ‘rage’ contagion, which is transmitted through bodily fluids. One nasty bite later and the humans are infected. But that’s only the beginning.
Whilst a more obvious feature – read: Resident Evil – might have followed the viral spread from isolated incident to national epidemic and beyond, Garland’s twist is to jump forward a month to the desolate aftermath. Having spent the prior twenty-eight days in a coma, Jim (Murphy) wakes naked in St Thomas’ Hospital to find the building and city beyond it deserted. In a brilliantly executed sequence of near silence, Jim passes by a succession of baron London landmarks but encounters no one. It is only when he disturbs a Hans Melming inspired nest of zombies that his lonely existence becomes a threatened one.
On a journey that will lead to an Orwellian military settlement outside Manchester, Jim engages in a succession of meaningful encounters. He his saved first by Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris), before later meeting Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). Rather than pitting characters against continuous onslaught, this is the sort of horror that takes time to breathe. In one scene, Jim is allowed to properly mourn the loss of his parents and does so with emotional sincerity. That aforementioned lesser film would likely have interrupted his tears by having his rotting mother leap from the bed behind him in attack. Of course, it should come as no surprise that a Danny Boyle horror has abundant empathy.
That said, this is not a film short on gore and shocking violence. At one point, a terrific Harris vehemently hacks her companion to death simply because she suspects he might have been infected. Might. Likewise, whilst swathes of the film are relaxed and even gentile, Boyle captures his athletic infected with a chaotic and heart racing brutalism. Ditching the idea that zombies lumber, here they sprint, leap over cars and put in a vicious fight. Placed against a familiar environment, their threat feels genuine and is heightened by the crescendoing thrums of John Murphy’s electric score.
Filmed unconventionally on a small digicam, so as to imply that the filmmakers too are survivors, 28 Days Later presents a worryingly believable glimpse at how the world might react to a viral disaster. Shots of a deserted London reach further under the skin than Hollywood’s bombastic city-destroying productions, whilst the final act twist is more horrifying than any brain eating cliche. This is scrappy, engaging and brilliantly measured.