28 Days Later (2002) Movie Review

My reaction to Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” would probably be a lot more positive if I hadn’t just finished watching Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. I mention this only because “28 Days Later” is, in a nutshell, a retread of Romero’s “Dead” trilogies, most notably “Day of the Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead”. Anyone familiar with Zombies Attack movies can immediately tell you that what director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland has offered us in “28 Days Later” is nothing more than a slicker, more expensive, and modern retelling of what Romero did (and much better) decades ago.

In “28 Days Later”, we get people that have been turned into homicidal maniacs instead of flesh-eating zombies. Infected by a virus that originated in a laboratory somewhere, the virus has ravaged London and, we presume, the rest of the world. Civilization as we know it has collapsed; electricity and running water are gone; and all of London is an empty shell. How this is possible after only 28 days is a little perplexing, but there you have it. More perplexing, perhaps, is why the infected are afraid of daylight. Maybe they think they’re vampires, since their eyes have turned solid red from the infection?

All kidding aside, “28 Days Later” is a terrific looking picture and benefits greatly from digital video. Boyle even pops up with some unexpected Ryan’s War POV shots usually reserved for War Movies (varied film speed, shutter tricks, removed frames, etc.) for the violent scenes, giving it energy and urgency. Which makes me wonder if director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”) might have spent too much time collaborating with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle and not nearly enough time with writer Alex Garland.

Because if Boyle had spent some extra afternoons with his screenwriter he might have noticed that “28 Days Later” never explains a lot of things, such as why are the roads and highways completely deserted, as if all cars had vanished from the face of the Earth? The movie tells us numerous times that a mass exodus from London had occurred in the early days of the infection. If so, did all those evacuating people hop into their cars and if they had, did all of them make it to sanctuary?

There are a lot of other things wrong with “28 Days Later”, most of them of the variety that makes you scratch your head and go, “Well, if it was the end of the world, and there were homicidal killers running around like PCP freaks trying to gut me, I wouldn’t exactly do that.” Or how about this nagging question: If the infected are homicidal, the virus having turned them into indiscriminate killing machines, why don’t they kill each other? These guys are supposedly psychotic, and have no regards for themselves (they don’t eat) and they’ve lost all manner of sense (they race around like rabid dogs), and yet they never attack each other. Hmm, I smell gaping plot hole.

Instead of spending too much time on all that’s wrong with “28 Days Later” (and it would take a lot of time, let me assure you), I’ll mention that Cillian Murphy gives a good performance as Jim, a survivor who wakes up from a coma only to find that the world has ended. Naomie Harris is also effective as Selena, a survivor who saves Jim’s life, and becomes his love interest. Selena is so tough and determined that she has no trouble butchering a fellow survivor a few seconds after discovering that he’s become infected. Later, we discover her softer side, as she has to care for a young girl. Although I’m not entirely sure why she goes from super tough in the first half to simply useless in the second half. Or, for that matter, how Jim turned into Rambo by movie’s end.

The obvious lack of intelligence in “28 Days Later” is mostly the fault of screenwriter Alex Garland. It’s not as if the film was trying to pull one of those, “The less they know, the more effective the film will be” gimmick. Certainly this wouldn’t explain why the roads are barren, or why our heroes camp out in the middle of the countryside at one point, and drive into a pitch-dark tunnel at another. The fact is, these people have the survival instincts of a snail, and it’s any wonder they survived even a day after the infection began.

Actually, Garland and Boyle seems to care less about how our survivors will continue to survive (the screenplay certainly shows no logic toward this end), since the film’s second half takes a completely different turn. Again, using the social commentary of Romero’s “Dead” films — i.e. man is more dangerous to man’s survival than any infection can ever be — “28 Days Later” introduces us to a group of soldiers who are sadistic to the core. Not only do we immediately get this too obvious trait of our survivors’ “saviors”, but at this point the film becomes a joke. To put it bluntly, these soldiers make the happy-go-lucky rednecks of “Night of the Living Dead” look like complex characters out of a Merchant-Ivory film!

I think people know how much I like End of the World movies. Its slick production and a finale that is wildly bloody probably saves “28 Days Later” somewhat, but I still wished the film hadn’t turn into a silly farce halfway in. As it stands, once the film was over, I had to look for my brain. I’m sure it got knocked loose about the same time Jim woke up from that hospital.

The truth is, Alex Garland’s screenplay for “28 Days Later” is as unoriginal and derivative as they come. To wit, if you’ve seen Boris Sagal’s “The Omega Man” then you’ve seen the entire first half of “28 Days Later”; and if you’ve seen Romero’s “Day of the Dead” then you’ve already seen all of the second half. Along the way, Garland and Boyle even throws in dashes of memorable moments from films like “Dawn of the Dead” and other, better movies. It’s bad enough that “28 Days Later” is acting on low brain cells, but the head in which those miniscule brain cells are housed is stolen!

Danny Boyle (director) / Alex Garland (screenplay)
CAST: Cillian Murphy …. Jim
Naomie Harris …. Selena
Megan Burns …. Hannah
Brendan Gleeson …. Frank
Christopher Eccleston …. Maj. Henry West

Buy 28 Days Later on DVD