Sunday 14 August 2022

Movie Review: 28 Days Later (2002)

A zombie apocalypse horror film, 28 Days Later is a creepy vision of societal collapse.

In England, animal liberation activists invade a lab to free captive chimpanzees and accidentally release a fast-spreading virus that causes rage, triggering an epidemic. 28 days later, bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma at an abandoned London hospital. Chased by zombie-like infected humans thirsty for flesh and blood, he is saved by the intervention of survivors Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark.

Jim insists on visiting his parents' home, then he and Selena connect with fellow survivor Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah. They pick up a radio transmission promising safety at an army checkpoint near Manchester, and head out in Frank's cab. After several close escapes they connect with Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) and his small group of soldiers, but Jim and Selena's troubles are far from over.

Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland revitalize the zombie genre (although the term is never used) with a sparse, character-driven journey into a collapsed civil structure. 28 Days Later delivers a haunting vision of evacuated cities beset by marauding infected victims seeking fresh blood, with pockets of survivors left to fend on their own. Whether surviving another day to live in this nightmare is even worth the effort is a question posed early, Jim's parents finding a peaceful ending when all hope seems lost.

The zombies move quickly, and while the violence is often shocking, Boyle's jerky hand-held cameras and dark environs imply more than what they show. Not satisfied with revealing street-level horrors, Garland takes the story towards the essence of the human condition. The second half shifts gears a couple of times. First Major West and his men appear to provide refuge, but a twist awaits, initially outrageous but upon reflection most plausible in the context of men reverting to the laws of the jungle. The ability to kill in the name of living becomes a pressing reality.

The tangle with the military men adds thematic spice, but does create a movie-within-a-movie and takes the intense focus away from the core apocalypse story. The star-free cast helps to maintain dour concentration within the changing nature of the challenge, Cillian Murphy as Jim navigating the transition from courier to adept survivor with help from Naomie Harris' unyielding determination to do what it takes.

As the rules of chaos take hold, the abstract happenstance of who lives and who dies is a random variable. One drop of blood landing in exactly the wrong place is as much a cause for a machete attack as hordes of chomping zombies. With the virus easily representing the spread of any condition that corrodes social fundamentals and triggers anarchy, 28 Days Later is disturbingly cogent.

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