28 Days Later is the latest film from director Danny Boyle and producer Andrew McDonald, the team behind Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach. Alex Garland (author of the book the last of these was based on) provides the screenplay. The film is a post-apocalypse pseudo-zombie horror, but it is nothing like as tacky as that might sound; in fact, it is strikingly well-imagined and convincingly realised.

The film opens with a montage of violent newsreel footage; slowly the camera zooms out and we see that these clips are being shown on an array of screens positioned around a chimp strapped to a chair. Tubes are attached to various parts of its body. Cut to a group of balaclava-wearing animal liberation types breaking into the laboratory complex. When they reach their target - a room full of chimps in sturdy plastic cages - they are interrupted by one of the scientists from the project, who warns them that the chimps are infected... 'with rage'.

These activists are not going to listen to warnings from some sicko chimp-abusing biologist, though, so they get on with breaking open the cages to free the tormented primates inside. They don't know what kind of film they're in, of course, so it comes as something of a surprise to them when one of the chimps comes charging along the passage out of the cage at full pelt, fiery-eyed, and brutally savages one of their number. The chimp is swiftly dispatched, but it's too late; the infection, transmitted by blood and saliva, has already turned the savaged activist into a lurching, bloodthirsty monster, and she is only the first to fall. Containment is no longer possible.

The story of the next 28 days is told in the clever poster campaign for the film, in stark black and white comic art. The infection spread out of control, the panic it caused barely having time to precede it. The authorities tried to evacuate the cities, but by then it was already too late, and by the time international flights were cancelled cases had already been reported in New York and Paris. The details of the catastrophe only become clear as the film progresses; for now, we cut straight from the laboratory to the ward where our main character, Jim, is waking up from a coma to find himself in an empty hospital, 28 days later...

There isn't very much more plot that I can give away without spoiling any surprises; after some time wandering around the stock landmarks of a silent and desolate London, pausing to glance at the headline news in an abandoned newspaper and collect up a pile of discarded bank notes, Jim discovers that there are still a few scattered survivors in the city. Disappointingly for Jim, they have crazy eyes and are bent on eating his flesh; several of them give chase through the quiet streets until he is found and rescued by a couple of survivors who have managed to stay uninfected and relatively sane.

The whole thing has a sort of Day of the Triffids meets Evil Dead feel to it, which is in no way a bad thing. The eerie, well-designed sets and the fine cinematography make for a genuinely creepy atmosphere and a visually rich experience; the feeling of impending doom never goes away, but somehow the zombie attacks still have the power to shock when they finally arrive. The cast of relative unknowns mostly give very good performances as their characters struggle to come to terms with the deaths of everyone they love whilst doing what they can to avoid their own sudden, violent deaths. The putative hero is played in a downbeat style by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, whose previous films apparently include Disco Pigs and How Harry Became a Tree. Naomie Harris, fresh from her role in the Channel 4 adaptation of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, gives a fine performance as hard-headed Selena, and the supporting cast is generally strong - although the girl, Hannah, does appear to be inexplicably Dutch.

Empire magazine is quoted as calling this 'the best British horror movie in the last 30 years', and they may well be right. Excellent stuff.


Some information gleaned from www.imdb.com.
The Empire review is at http://www.empireonline.co.uk/reviews/review.asp?id=8496&ss=28+days+later&sb=t&or=bf&c=&r=0&f=0&cp=1
The official site is at www.28dayslaterthemovie.com
...but it has a stupid, slow Flash menu on the front page so I got bored before I extracted anything useful out of it.

A quick response is in order to the objection that the infection could never have reached the rest of the world, given how quickly it seems to turn people into zombies: We don't know whether some people might just become carriers when infected, or take longer to display symptoms; in either case, the disease could realistically have reached everywhere.

The DVD release of this film has some quite positive bits that lift it above many other DVD packaging jobs. The menu system and incidental art is unexceptional but well integrated; the front cover is busier than the original movie poster and contains more information as well. Some will think that a problem, but with the need for tight secrecy about the movie's contents over with theatrical release, the cover is remarkably restrained and still fits in well.

Technically, the transfer is quite good; although a couple of artifacts were noticeable in my viewing, none were center-screen and none took place during important moments. I had to go back through it a second time looking, and while a couple occurred, I still couldn't tell you precisely when - in order to find them, you have to be looking carefully, and not at the film.

Sound is in Dolby Digital and DTS (5.1 channel) on the Region 1 release. The surround mix is adequate but spotty; in some places, the surround offers a magnificent addition to the ambiance of the story, with echoes, slight noises, pursuit sounds, shrieks, gunfire and the like occurring quite convincingly just offscreen, locatable via sound. The cast's reactions match the soundfield's 'direction' perfectly. Unfortunately, a large part of the movie has either a slight echo, or takes place amidst blasting noise, or deliberately confuses the viewer as to direction in the visuals, all of which render a good surround mix moot. What's there, however, is well done. The dialogue is clear, and the soundtrack (an excellent component of the whole experience) is presented beautifully.

The best part of the DVD release, in my opinion, is that we get not only the original ending to the film and the 'theatrical alternative' ending (which was added to the theater release after a few weeks, playing after the credits) we also get another 'alternative ending' which was not offered in the theater, and a 'radical alternative ending' option in addition! This latter was not actually filmed, and is presented as storyboards with Danny Boyle and Andrew McDonald doing a script and stage direction reading over it. It's actually quite effective; given how much we've seen of the characters by this point, superimposing them in ones' mind is easy.

A basic rule of epidemiology was ignored in 28 Days Later. The speed that a disease travels through a community is inversely proportional to the time taken for host to be identified as a carrier. The disease is frightenly virulent - people struck by this virus would turn into blood-vomiting zombies within 30 seconds. Nonetheless, it should have been easily contained within Britain, where the outbreak took place.

Yet we are told that infections reached New York. I wonder then how a zombie managed to board a trans-Atlantic shuttle, sit still for eight hours reading High Life magazine and not infect the flight crew even non-zombies get air rage . And if the pilot became a zombie himself mid-flight, how then are we to expect that he was able to land a jumbo at JFK airport if zombies are too thick to grow crops ?

Infections reached Paris as well - perhaps more realistic if we presume the zombies walked along the Chunnel and the French border guards at the other end failed to keep them back. Given France's track record in failing to repel invaders this does seem credible. The Finns however are hardier stock and presumably survived the pandemic - the plane at the end was flown by a Finnish speaker.

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