Thu June 19, 2003
28 Days Later
The best horror/zombie film since George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," and maybe better.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"28 Days Later," by British director Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting"), is the best horror/zombie film since George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead," and maybe better. The eerie set design is appropriate without being overdone (Rod Serling would have approved its restraint), the characters are real without being overwrought (especially the women, who are usually sacrificed to too much emoting), and the subtexts about contemporary crises are clear without distracting from the science fiction genre itself.
Experimental monkeys have transmitted a "rage virus" in England so that the population is largely decimated and the island quarantined by the rest of the world. Left in a Blade Runner/Mad Max post-apocalyptic country are a few unaffected survivors and some very badly infected "raging" zombies, reflecting Shakespeare's comment that the "strain of man's bred out into baboon and monkey."
Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Selena (Naomie Harris) are 2 survivors who hook up with a family to find an army outpost near Manchester (Remember a similar setup in Romero's "Dead") for protection.
Not only does the film intelligently confront the old "man's -inhumanity-to-man" and "survival-of the fittest" themes, but it also glosses the meaning of life and the need for community. That Jim and Selena are different races adds to the universal quality of the film.
Does it include the formulaic elements of the horror genre? Yes, but with restraint: it has low-key lighting, quick cuts, and stupid moves without drawing attention to them. The cuts give you the sense of danger and horror without forcing you to dwell on hokey or horrible effects. John Murphy's score intelligently and creatively supports and contrasts meaning and mood.
The spreading contagion, quickly transmitted by blood or saliva, is much like AIDS in Africa (the prominent zombie of the film is black), and the military response reminds of the worst conditions of the war in Iraq or anytime where anarchy is allowed to grow. When Jim asks, "What's the government doing about it?" the reply is "There is no government." Jim sums up the na?ve populace response when he says, "What do you mean? There's always a government!"
No film this year has so entertained my grandson, Cody, and me with such humanism and suspense as "28 Days Later." Don't wait that long to be scared and satisfied.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.