Movie Review: 28 Days Later… (2002)

I didn't even recognise Sandra Bullock.

28 Days Later… (2002)

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston

Directed by: Danny Boyle

Last week, I reviewed a movie in anticipation of the release of its sequel (well, its second sequel, anyway). Given that this is the summer movie season of retreads, I could probably do that every other week for the next few months. This time out, I’m reviewing 2002’s 28 Days Later… before its sequel 28 Weeks Later comes out, but the difference is that I’m not reviewing something I’ve been watching off and on for five years, I’m reviewing something I watched for the first time ever last night.

How’d it take me five years to see this movie, you may ask? I’d had some interest in seeing it over the years, given the critical reception it received, but never got around to it since it’s marketed as being a genre that I generally don’t watch (horror). Earlier this year, I heard its name bandied about in comparison to Children of Men, which piqued my curiosity anew, so I figured I should see it before the sequel came out. I managed to just squeak it in, even though I had it borrowed since October (I am such a terrible borrower).

Now that I have seen it, I’ve come to some conclusions: one, it’s not really a horror movie; two, the hype surrounding the movie was correct; three, I took way too long to see it, and four, I’m actually a little less interested in seeing the sequel than I was before I saw the original.

First off, Danny Boyle‘s 28 Days Later… is a truly scary movie, a zombie-esque thriller (that doesn’t quite feature zombies, as in the living dead, but rather zombie-esque humans) that delivers the chills and frights you’d expect from the horror genre, while not quite being a horror movie. Instead, it’s a post-apocalyptic thriller with horror elements. I know it sounds like I’m splitting hairs here, but the truth is that while the movie starts off feeling very much like a high-minded, sci-fi horror, it changes tone halfway through to become more of a drama/thriller than a horror movie. So if you are like me, and have avoided this movie because you don’t watch horrors, then don’t let that stop you any longer.

Of course, that’s not to say that watching this last night didn’t leave me a bit on edge when my shutters kept blowing in the wind in the middle of the night. The movie does induce genuine fear into the audience, both with its presentation of the Infected as relentless killing machines, and the overall mood of the film (Boyle uses a lot of voyeuristic shots of the principle actors from behind buildings and through rubble that put you on edge throughout, wondering if we’re seeing the POV shot of an Infected). With all the horror on display, I think the most chilling sequence in the movie is before the danger starts, when Jim (Cillian Murphy) wanders out into an abandoned downtown London, having recently woken up from a coma all alone. The empty London streets, mixed with rubble, overturned buses, and postings of missing loved ones sets the stark tone for the movie, and chills you to the bone. It is an incredibly impressive sequence, especially considering that the movie was shot for about $10 million (Boyle shot the scene on digital video by clearing out parts of the street for a few minutes at a time, then putting all the footage together).

The comparisons to Children of Men are apt, as the two share a lot of elements, which means that I can now add this movie to my list of reasons why I found Children of Men to be a really well made movie that wasn’t as original as people kept exclaiming it to be. Still, if you liked that movie, you should enjoy this one too. 28 Days Later… is a post-apocalyptic vision of what happens when man messes with nature and nature messes back, and how people struggle with their own humanity when facing the seeming end of days. On top of being horrifying, the movie also quite thought-provoking.

As for the upcoming sequel, I will probably check it out, since I enjoyed this movie so much, but am nervous about it. Nobody involved with this movie returns for 28 Weeks Later (other than Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland being given executive producer titles), so it doesn’t follow the remaining characters or promise to continue the vision of Boyle and Garland. I’m worried that it’s just a cash-in on this unexpected success, and will re-hash the frights from the original without any of the nuance. While this movie certainly leaves room for more stories, I’d also have been content if it stood alone as the excellent work it is.

4.5/5

Related Reviews:
Children of Men (2006)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Comic Book Review: Y: The Last Man – “Unmanned” (2002)

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