Not to be confused with the recent Sandra Bullock rehab comedy “28 Days,” which could be considered a zombie movie of a different ilk, director Danny Boyle’s recent U.K low budget horror hit finally made its way to America last week.
I hope that it captures U.S. audiences’ attention, too, because it’s a way more creative and fully realized film than such recent cop-out ‘scary’ movies like “The Ring.”
“28 Days Later” shares one thing in common with “The Ring,” as both are blessed with a great premise. A bicycle messenger (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a hospital bed in London after an accident to discover that the huge city is completely deserted, save for some very nasty zombie-types with red eyes who vomit blood and attack anything that moves.
The hilarious ironic twist is that the virus that has decimated everybody started when some animal rights activists thought to liberate “rage” infected monkeys from a lab. They are immediately rewarded for their efforts when the monkeys rip them to shreds and turn them into raving, flesh-eating monsters.
I think that I should mention at this point that “28 Days Later” is shot on digital video. This gives the colors a very washed-out look and erases any chance for good picture quality. Basically, it just looks like shit. Boyle tries to be cinematic with his edits and framing of shots, but his attempts to elevate this no-budget medium just pointed out its faults even more clearly.
I do understand that this post-apocalyptic world probably shouldn’t look glossy and shiny. But there are other ways to get the point across. In “The Blair Witch Project,” the film stock used was the very convention of the movie. We knew why it looked like it did, because it was shot by the subjects themselves. It was precisely the reason it was so scary in the first place. But by showing his knack for well-designed shots, Boyle revealed what the film could have looked like if it was shot on real film instead of digital video.
One thing I did appreciate, however, was the swerving camera movement during the intense zombie attacks. It is more horrifying to hear blood-curdling, flesh-ripping sounds and only be able to briefly glimpse the gore within the frantically moving picture than it is to show the actual scene.
Some very crazy and brutal opening scenes set a tone that carries the rest of the film through. Jim eventually meets other survivors, including the excellent Brendan Gleeson (“Gangs of New York”), and “28 Days Later” reveals that there is something different lurking below its surface. What, character development in a zombie movie? It’s true, and it’s well done, as these people are suddenly thrown together as allies in a desperate struggle.
There are few moments of levity, where their pure exasperation forces a laugh, but terror is never far behind. All of this helped make the situation seem more real. Or at least as real as a zombie movie can get.
So many horror movies always seem to falter at the end, faced with the challenge of wrapping everything up nicely. Screenwriter Alex Garland does an able job of not insulting the rest of the movie with one of those crappy ghost-dream-twist endings that are so popular today. The last act of the movie was still a bit disappointing, though. Jim’s arc was fairly believable, but the setting and characters introduced at the end replaced my dread with slight ambivalence.
I understand why he wrapped it up that way, and I get the philosophical point being made (it certainly didn’t help the drama unfold), but I just liked the movie better when it wasn’t trying to make one. “28 Days Later” didn’t end with a thud, it was more like a mild whimper.