#31 - 28 Days Later
Bet you didn't expect another zombie apocalypse film to make my list, let alone come only two days after I reviewed the other one. I'm not saying zombie apocalypse films don't belong on a 100 greatest films list but a lot of the time there isn't a lot of diversity between them. The two I've picked both seem to stick out from all the others that I've seen but in my opinion, 28 Days Later did the fresh spin stuff a bit better than Dawn of the Dead did. Dawn of the Dead went ahead and did something called Reconstruction of the zombie apocalypse, making the traditional formula work in a new modern way. 28 Days Later on the other hand was more of a Deconstruction of the genre, uniquely directed by the dynamic and decorated director Danny Boyle. Let's take a look at how this unfolds...
Everything starts with some scientists experimenting on chimps (illegally of course) and infecting them with rage. A group of activists who unwisely don't look before they leap break into the facility intending to free the poor creatures....needless to say things take a turn for the really quite bad. We fast forward twenty eight days to a young man Jim waking up in an abandoned hospital. He finds the streets of London completely deserted and some kind of crisis has happened. It turns out the rage virus spread and turned the nice normal people of the country into raving bloodthirsty zombies (they don't use the Z-word and they're not actually undead but they are zombies for all intents and purposes). Lucky for Jim he meets up with hardened survivor Selena and they soon meet up with the kindly man Frank and his daughter Hannah who have heard a radio broadcast from a group of soldiers in Manchester, claiming to have "the answer to infection". They take off in a taxi-cab hoping to salvage something from the situation, braving the infected along the way.
I mentioned earlier about the Deconstruction so now I'll explain exactly what it does. A deconstruction is meant to play the formula straight but showing why it wouldn't work and putting it in a realistic light. First of all the infection is a virus, making the outbreak similar to a normal epidemic - giving us a realistic explanation for the apocalypse. The infected aren't actually dead of course which makes them the closest thing to real life zombies. Really, if we think about it, the infected don't pose that much of a threat. They are dangerous if there's more of them and you can't defend yourself but if you're behind a metal gate, in a high rise apartment block or in a mansion surrounded by land mines, of course they can't get you. It's great to me that the infected turn out to not be the real antagonists of the story and the second half of the film is dealing with how our survivors can escape from the despairing soldiers. It also helps having Selena seemingly know exactly what kind of film she's in ("do you want to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and fuck(!)") which is all about post-modernism.
I know I don't usually go into detail about themes and that but I will show you my inner psychiatrist...er film psychiatrist and talk about a pretty big one I noticed when watching this film back this time. The characters are in an "after the end" or "during the end" scenario and they struggle to deal with it. One way in which they try to deal with it is by giving themselves goals. Creating goals for themselves gives them something to work towards and keeps them from facing complete hopelessness in the future. Jim, Hannah, Frank and Selena decide to go and find the soldiers after hearing the broadcast because it gives them a journey and a destination. We see that the four of them are at their happiest when they're travelling because they have a goal in sight and something to accomplish. We then see how they react when they actually reach their goal because they don't know what to do. Similarly the soldiers have no goals and veer into despair which is why Major West sets the broadcast, to give them a sense that they're working towards some kind of future. I won't spoil exactly how dark this turns out but I will warn you to be prepared...
In our cast list we have fine Irish actor Cillian Murphy as Jim, in one of the few roles where he's been able to use his natural Irish accent. He does seem to play villains an awful lot (and I personally didn't like him much in The Wind That Shakes The Barley) so it's a nice change to see him playing someone so helpless. Jim is pretty much the baby of the group at the start since he wakes up right in the middle of the crisis, and he has to grow up pretty fast or else he won't survive. He's definitely a twist from the typical He-Man action hero we usually get in a zombie apocalypse film, especially when the Alpha-Male figure gets killed off about ten minutes in. Naomie Harris is similarly without the Jamaican accent that people might know her better for and is equally compelling as Selena. According to her and Danny Boyle, the two of them came up with a backstory for Selena where she apparently had to kill her whole family in one afternoon in order to explain her character's cynical attitude. She's so good at it that it is a bit of a shock when the character smiles for the first time. Brendan Gleeson who seems to be in everything plays Frank and adopts a funny cockney accent, doing quite well as the Team Dad of the group. I liked the daughter Hannah but the actress's voice was a bit annoying. You could definitely tell she was trying to do an accent. And finally we have Christopher Eccleston once again as Major Henry West. I enjoyed him in this and his character was written quite interesting as well, despite the circumstances. The guy playing Jones and his frilly pink apron was entertaining as well.
I know I often split up the different sets of scenes so of course that's what I'm gonna do and start with the horror scenes. The one that made it to the 100 Greatest Scary Moments had good reason and it comes when the group gets a flat tyre in a tunnel and have to change it. Unfortunately a large group of rats hurry across as they're running from the infected. It's an incredibly tense scene and I feel incredibly sorry for the young actress who had to have rats crawling all over her face. Jim's final rampage on the mansion is pretty gripping and tense as well and the soldiers do get some of the more brutal death scenes. Finally on that end of the spectrum we have Jim and Selena's chase up the stairs of the apartment block to get into Frank and Hannah's house, while running from the infected of course. The softer scenes give us a nice little bonding moment right after the rats scene where they stop at an abandoned supermarket and stock up on supplies. It's the first time we Selena actually happy, laughing and joking with Hannah and it creates a nice family dynamic between the four. There's also a nice bit where the four of them see a group of horses running through the countryside, survivors waiting for life to begin again similar to the eagle from Final Fantasy. And of course "that was longer than a heartbeat", can't leave that out.
Believe it or not, there were actually about six different endings made for this film. I've seen and read about all of them and I do feel that the one we got in the final cut was the best choice. I'm not one for putting dark and angsty endings in there just to be cool and edgy and the ending we got did fit in with the film's tone. Danny Boyle remains one of my favourite directors and I like how he put his own spin on a zombie film and helped make it so much more than that, much like Zack Snyder did with Dawn of the Dead. It has a nice indie feel to it, helped by the great cinematography and sticks out as one of the better modern horror films though of course only the best make my list. I don't know what else there is to say about it but you're free to steal my thoughts and find more to say about it. And I'm only just realising I could have put this down as number 28 on my list. While I'm kicking myself in the head for missing that, you lot can follow me on Twitter.