28 Days Later... (2002)
March 28, 2018 6:36 PM - Subscribe

Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.

Roger Ebert: "28 Days Later" is a tough, smart, ingenious movie that leads its characters into situations where everything depends on their (and our) understanding of human nature.

WaPo: Unrelentingly grim, unremittingly gross and unforgivably unattractive, "28 Days Later" is an orgy of troubling images and bestial sound effects: Before they pounce, the haggard, corpselike infectors make the gagging sounds of feral pigs. The most unfortunate instance in a seemingly endless stream of disgusting action is the image of a black man chained to a wall, his eyes bloodshot, his mouth trickling blood, bellowing with homicidal fury.

NYTimes: But what is most striking, and most chilling, about the early scenes of this post-apocalyptic horror show, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland, is the eerie, echoing emptiness. Stumbling out of his hospital bed, Jim (Cillian Murphy), a former bike messenger, encounters a familiar metropolis that has been almost entirely stripped of life. Postcard images of the Thames, London Bridge and the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral take on a lurid, funereal glow. After centuries of bustle and enterprise, what remain are vacant buildings, overturned double-decker buses, looted vending machines and cheap souvenir replicas of Big Ben scattered across the sidewalk.

In their previous collaboration, ''The Beach,'' Mr. Boyle and Mr. Garland tried to imagine how a small group of people, removed from the modern world, might reconstitute society from scratch, an experiment whose failure seemed preordained for both the characters and the filmmakers. Here, working with a more solid premise, a smaller budget and greater freedom (and without big movie stars), they probe a similar theme more persuasively.

Slate: 28 Days Later is like all three George A. Romero Dead movies packed into one: Its larky shopping scene recalls Dawn of the Dead (1978), and it ends in a military compound, where much of the messed-up Day of the Dead (1985) is set. The movie is derivative as hell, but it's also blazingly well-made, and it moves at a ferocious clip. So do its zombies. Unlike the loping Romero dead, the infected here are a barely glimpsed blur—which makes them terrifying in a different kind of way. When they're hacked up or shot, their blood spatters stroboscopically in shiny diamonds.

Slant: 28 Days Later works well on its own merits. The long silences between bursts of violence allow for empathy for the film’s characters (always reliable Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is particularly touching as a teddy bear father-figure). Like all good horror films, when one of the heroes is struck down it actually means something. Choice villains are found in the infected, as well as the rational sociopath running the military operation out of Manchester (Christopher Eccleston). If 28 Days Later has one major fault, it’s the use of digital video. Certain action sequences morph into abstract blurs where it’s near impossible to tell what’s happening. Boyle also runs into the same problem that hurt Romero’s Day of the Dead, where the army base becomes a source of easy conflict as piggish soldiers lose their discipline as society collapses. Still, these problems are relatively minor considering the hard-driving intensity of 28 Days Later. The Rage virus feels particularly topical in our angry modern times. But maybe the more appropriate metaphor is that anyone who has struggled through a grouchy, apocalyptic mood during 28 days of nicotine/drug/alcohol withdrawal will find their hostile sentiments reflected in this anger-fueled nightmare odyssey.

AV Club: Later does a lot of things right, which makes its third-act missteps even more frustrating. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who recently shot Lars von Trier's Dogville, makes inspired use of digital video, using its blurry, voyeuristic intimacy to convey the disorienting horror of a world where death and disease hover like a ghostly fog. The film similarly concocts a terrifying new subset of zombies that are sleeker, faster, and more ferociously primal than their often lumbering ancestors. Boyle and Garland wisely use their frightening monsters sparingly, which allows them to retain their shock and novelty: The infected never hang around long enough for the audience to get used to them. But while Later maintains the same sort of restraint for much of its duration, it casts that restraint aside during a bloody, over-the-top final act that diminishes the film's scary poignancy. Like his makeshift societies, Garland's tantalizing set-ups tend to unravel in unsatisfying ways.

Empire: If you look for flaws, they're there. Any film as rough-edged as this flirts with seeming amateurism, while the third act not only borrows almost wholesale from Romero's Day Of The Dead but hammers home the message about man's inherent inner rage a bit too forcefully. But the powerful, broad-strokes performances (both Murphy and Harris have been noticed by Hollywood since) recall an observation made of 1959 nuclear war movie, On The Beach: that it's impossible to judge the acting since what constitutes appropriate behaviour in this situation is anybody's guess.


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The Danny Boyle Project Part Four: "28 Days Later"

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posted by MoonOrb (13 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Great film, but I sort of blame it for the endless amounts of zombie movies/books/games/etc that came in the ten years following it.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:24 PM on March 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

The opening few minutes are very strong, the rest less so, I felt.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:52 PM on March 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I liked this movie a lot until Cillian Murphy's character does a 180o full Rambo near the end.

Agreed, Chrysostom, the opening is fantastic. iirc, The Walking Dead pilot tried to channel a bit of that magic.
posted by porpoise at 7:20 AM on March 29, 2018

The opening is good. I would say the last action scene where Murphy is running wild through the mansion is pretty good also, I don't think its a full Rambo thing, I think its making a point about the nature of the angry/violent qualities of the people who have become zombie-fied and those qualities as being part of the human condition. Its also got a top quality wind turbine scene, so can't be faulted there.
posted by biffa at 8:17 AM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agreed, Chrysostom, the opening is fantastic. iirc, The Walking Dead pilot tried to channel a bit of that magic.

And both of them echo the opening of the Day of the Triffids; and, in fact, the final act of 28 Days Later draws on Day of the Triffids heavily as well. I think, as this article points out, this film should be considered a reboot/reimagining of Day of the Triffids rather than a zombie film...although the timing of the release alongside things like Resident Evil and Max Brooks' Zombie Survival Guide and the start of the general "zombie wave" of entertainment means that it is considered one of them.
posted by nubs at 9:38 AM on March 29, 2018 [8 favorites]

This film is great and I've watched it many times, but it suffers from Danny Boyle's third act problem (the same issue with his film Sunshine in my opinion). He excels at doing brooding, slow buildup, cerebral action thrillers, often interspersed with very effective bursts of shock and horror.

But his action films nearly all turn into over-the-top haunted house gorefests in the last third, chucking all of the careful buildup out of the window.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


For me that third act wasn't a problem at all, but rather what the entire film had spent building up to. A bit of a cliche perhaps, but it's a good tradition in zombie movies to have everything come crashing down in the very end, the cozy survivor setup ruined not by the zombie hordes, but internal strife or external interference.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:29 AM on March 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, absolutely. It's a classic zombie movie denouement. The problem is it belongs in a different film.

The early and mid-film are full of haunting set pieces, like Jim waking up, the first initial chase after he disturbs the Infected in the church, the three survivors walking along the DLR tracks, the horrific scene where the other male survivor gets splashed with blood after a really shocking night attack by Infected, the grim and dark tower block scene, the cheerful (and very necessary, to break the tension just a touch) interlude in the supermarket, another terrifying scene stuck in a tunnel, then the long slow build of the drive up the motorway.

Then in the last half hour it's Jim running shirtless and mental around a darkened country house in the middle of a literal dark and stormy night.

I like the whole film, but I wish the last third sat better with the rest of it.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:07 PM on March 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Weird, I thought the third act fit in right, reducing the quiet and thoughtful Jim to a monster of sorts. It's what was needed to battle the other monsters.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 PM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Danny Boyle has reinvented zombie horror, and it's...


(I really liked this movie, but all these years afterward the most memorable thing for me is still the extremely dumb marketing campaign.)
posted by tobascodagama at 4:48 PM on April 7, 2018

This is one of my favorite movies. I really didn't feel the disconnect with the 3rd act, I thought he just lost his mind and that fit well. All the acting was superb, it was beautifully shot, people didn't die because of plot reasons (even though one of the characters was extremely unlucky) and instead made mostly good decisions.

Too bad the sequel didn't hold up.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:02 AM on March 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is slower and sadder than I remembered.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:45 AM on January 29, 2022

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