Directed by: Danny Boyle || Produced by: Andrew Macdonald
Screenplay by: Alex Garland || Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson, Noah Huntley, Stuart McQuarrie, Ricci Harnett, Leo Bill
Music by: John Murphy || Cinematography by: Anthony Dod Mantle || Edited by: Chris Gill || Country: United Kingdom || Language: English
Running Time: 113 minutes
Two years before Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) would debut, shocking audiences everywhere with its totally not-terrible, impressive modern take on George A. Romero’s 1978 classic, veteran English filmmaker Danny Boyle took on the post-apocalyptic concept with new millennium grit and an auteur’s artistic determination. The result was the best zombie film to have ever been made, and one of the most influential since Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).
Nerds can nitpick and bitch about what constitutes a “real” zombie and what defines an “infected”-whatever, but no matter what way one examines 28 Days Later, it’s a powerful piece of post apocalyptic fiction with a heartwarming message, bloody violence and bleak visuals, and hauntingly beautiful sequences of a world returned to “normality.” Boyle is at is best, here, demonstrating how potent his skills can be when paired with the right screenwriter.
What makes 28 Days Later (henceforth, 28 DL) so distinct from other zombie films, or any story about the end of the world for that matter, is how quiet it is. Much of the film is permeated by nothing other than silence and characters’ soft footsteps. The film has few soundtrack pieces and sparse dialogue, though the music that is used and the spoken words we do hear are meaningful. Arguably the film’s most famous sequence is Cillian Murphy’s groggy revival from a month-long coma into a ruined zombie-wasteland — which, The Walking Dead [TWD; 2010-present] stole, by the way — tuned to the song, “East Hastings” by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Other great, mostly silent pieces include the opening prologue where a chimpanzee test-animal is strapped in front of a series of monitors displaying horrific acts of human violence, rioting, looting, and chaos; there’s also a beautiful scene toward the middle of the film where Murphy and costars Brendan Gleeson, Naomie Harris, and Megan Burns relax in a meadow while watching a herd of horses, and another more haunting sequence where Murphy stalks an abandoned gas station and kills his first infected human with a baseball bat.
The film’s commentary and running theme on human violence permeates these quiet scenes, though never so that any image seems forced or heavy-handed. Upon rewatching the film, I was amazed at how composed, expertly framed, and “artsy” so many scenes were despite being set against a brutal, bloody, and often crude backdrop of humans and zombies tearing each other to pieces. That’s what sets this project apart from any of Romero’s increasingly hamfisted, cornball films and their imitators, including the immensely popular TWD: 28 DL’s direction and cinematography are so beautiful and well composed that they tell an entire story in nearly every scene, in nearly every shot. Alex Garland’s script is multi-layered and efficient, as are his effective characterizations, but it’s Boyle’s visuals that steal the show.
Speaking of those characters, actors Murphy and Harris are some of the most readily sympathetic and likable zombie apocalypse survivors in history. Each have clear arcs and great chemistry, while their supporting cast is neither weird nor totally uninteresting like so many characters in Romero’s Dead anthologies. I cannot stress this fact enough that likable and well-acted characters are sorely lacking from zombie-fiction, and 28 DL’s portrayal of a likable, deep cast in 113 minutes is superior to every cast-member from TWD’s entire five seasons so far, and I’m a fan of the show. From both a directing and a writing standpoint, Boyle’s zombie-picture is head and shoulders above the rest of the subgenre, so much so that it transcends the campy confines of its premise and achieves excellence as a cinematic piece unto itself.
Arguably the trickiest part of any post-apocalyptic narrative is ending it, and somehow 28 DL executes that with precision. It’s not the cleanest climax, nor are the character arc destinations particularly smooth, but for all intents and purposes, 28 DL wraps all loose ends in a satisfying and realistic way. The film describes a bleak, dark tale with a beating human heart at its core and an uplifting message at the end of it all. It doesn’t drown in its cynicism like TWD or any Romero film, nor does it shy away from ultraviolence and post-apocalyptic grit like Marc Forster’s laughable World War Z (2013) adaptation.
Whether you have a passing interest in zombie-fiction, are a Walking Dead-lover, or can’t stand the undead stuff, 28 Days Later is worth your time. It’s great filmmaking any way you look at it, and along with Slumdog Millionaire (2008), is arguably Danny Boyle’s greatest directorial effort. If that’s not worth shouting about and screaming like you’re being chased by a horde of rabid, flesh-eating zombies, I don’t know what is.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Boyle works wonders with his camera and Anthondy Dod Mantle’s gorgeous cinematography. Even filmed on cheap, handheld DV-cameras, the film looks beautiful and brings a haunting vision of the end of the world to life in a way we’ve never experienced before or since. Garland’s script sets the stage for passionate character-drama, but mostly shines in its simplicity and quiet humanity. Murphy, Harris, and company give great performances as zombie apocalypse-survivors that are actually likable, for once. John Murphy’s soundtrack is outstanding; I haven’t stopped listening to it over a decade later.
—> 28 Days Later comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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