28 Days Later

UK release date: 1 November 2002

cast list
Cillian Murphy
Naomie Harris
Christopher Eccleston
Brendan Gleeson
Megan Burns

directed by
Danny Boyle

I was in my local supermarket last week when I came face to face with an ex who had stood me up. I was heading straight for him with my trolley. For a split second I had the urge to ‘mow him down’. I resisted. But this was my first attack of trolley RAGE and hopefully my last.

Danny Boyle’s latest splendid cinematic offering is all about RAGE. It’s not about trolley rage, road rage or rage on the Tube in rush hour, but a lethal virus (called RAGE) that infects the inhabitants of Britain.

The virus spreads through the release of a chimp from an animal laboratory in Cambridge. The effects are immediate and fast spreading. The infected are, within seconds, blood vomiting, devil-eyed ghouls.

It is a month later when the audience sees the catastrophic effect. Boyle’s knack of contrast with characters and set conveys this with style. As he wakes up in a deserted London hospital Jim (Cillian Murphy) slowly begins to comprehend that London is empty. Murphy plays the lost soul, waif-like innocent to perfection.

It is an audience silencer when he wanders through a bleak London, with no traffic or people, and the last tourist litter blowing in the breeze around Big Ben the only movement. Boyle’s use of music, such as the eerie hymn Abide With Me, adds to the slow, creeping realisation that, as graffiti in a church says, ‘the end is really fucking nigh’. There is no-one left in the country.

Jim is rescued by the survivor Selina (Naomie Harris) whose mantra is ‘staying alive is as good as it gets’. As they set about doing just that, together with a father and daughter, they become closer despite their hitherto opposite natures.

All of their ensuing flight from London in search of salvation at a military outpost is shot on location, making it all especially real. There’s the supermarket you shop in, the house that you live in, the street that you walk down. All of them are eerily empty.

The zombies appear when we least expect. One moment you are sympathising with the fragile Jim and his loss, the next you are gripping your seat at the terrible sound of the undeads’ attack.

The second half of the film stretches credulity though. Christopher Eccleston’s cultish army major, intent on gathering survivors together in a bid to repopulate the land – just a month after the first infection – lacks obvious motives, while his henchmen are never fully drawn.

The film has been shot in digital video giving an edgy quality, with the raw edginess of a horror movie and the gripping intensity of a thriller. Elements of science fiction, dreamlike sequences, stylised violence and down to earth humour all mix up for a memorable experience, one that maintains a cool unruffled streetwise appeal too. 28 Days Later also maintains its innocence through the characters’ attitudes, particularly towards sex and its use of idyllic rural scenes. There are some beautifully funny moments, amongst them a trip to Budgens supermarket and an offer of crème de menthe in the face of adversity.

But Boyle has insisted that he is not ‘selling it as a zombie movie and it’s more about contemporary life.’ It’s true; the zombie scenes are kept to a minimum, for the film has larger themes about life.

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