Tuesday, September 09, 2008
28 Days Later (2002)
(Image from IMP Awards)
28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's once unconventional take on the zombie genre was at the time of release fresh and invigorating - speedy zombies! Watching it again years later, however, it's clear that this one is not just a one trick pony - it's a little bit special and will endure for years to come.
Following a brief and rather shaky prologue the film proper begins mysteriously enough, with a man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) waking up in an abandoned hospital. He walks out and discovers a deserted London, a scenario that is revealed in hauntingly dramatic fashion. Most of the populace has fled, and he soon discovers why; the remainder have become the 'infected' - people who are essentially zombies - and have overrun Britain. After surviving his first harrowing encounter with the infected, Jim ends up with fellow survivors Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and Frank's daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). Hearing transmissions from the military telling them that there is a safe haven in Manchester, they set out across the desolate landscape in Frank's car, braving the possibility of being attacked by the infected.
A simple yet interesting premise, and one that is extremely well executed. After the iffy prologue the subsequent first two acts of the film are superb. The sense of desolation is palpable and the isolation permeates nearly every scene. The scenario is made believable by being unremittingly bleak and hopeless. The zombies generate a genuine feeling of terror, and the film doesn't hold back when it comes to delivering shocks and gruesome gore either. The best part though is that despite the bleakness there are several moments that are poignant and joyful, such as the scene where our heroes raid a supermarket with the gleeful enthusiasm of participating in a shopping spree.
The characters are complex, fallible, and very vulnerable - basically, human. This impression is created in large part by the excellent performances from the four leads, who generate a convincing sense of camaraderie. The bemused and delicate looking Murphy makes for an atypical lead who guides us through the shock and horror of what has happened. The character also makes an incredible transformation towards the end, one that is actually quite over the top but which Murphy manages to pull off. Speaking of the end, the last act takes the film into interesting territory but I didn't find it to be as well executed as what came before. A whole new bunch of characters are introduced and the tone of the film becomes twisted and sinister, and also somewhat comical. The cast members who show up here, including Christopher Eccleston, are all very good in their roles, but it still feels a bit incongruous and jarring.
While the final act - which ironically is somehow more bizarre than the stuff with the zombies - is a slight let down in terms of execution, it doesn't drag the film down too much, and it does provide a compelling commentary on the fragility of society and the simplicity with which people can descend into barbarism. The psychological aspects of the film ring true, and are also a part of what make this better than your average zombie flick.
Boyle is a filmmaker who doesn't seem to be limited by genre, and '28 Days Later' demonstrates his versatility by being effective as both a character piece and an edgy post apocalyptic horror film. There's a haunting beauty in the hellish nightmare world he creates, and despite the annoying digital video look in the early scenes the film delivers some captivating visuals. Those early shots of a deserted London are iconic. The horror elements are also well done, with tense and suspenseful scenes leading in to explosive moments of action. And yes, even the incongruous comedy elements are quite funny! The zombies themselves aren't all that impressive visually but they make up for it with their wild and unsettling behaviour, charging at people with manic rage and impressive speed.
I can't finish this review without mentioning the very cool and distinctive soundtrack, which complements the film well.
Overall, it's a very good film that lets itself down towards the end but still makes a strong, lasting overall impression by being absorbing and thought provoking, and by featuring characters worth giving a damn about. Quite, quite unlike its risible sequel.