With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now we’re sleeping with you. Don’t wake up.
Being British I have a keen interest in the horror films that we produce and we have come out with some true classics during the history of movies, but for me the most enjoyable is Danny Boyle’s 2002 viral apocalyptic masterpiece “28 Days Later”.
I’m sure some of you will wonder why I am reviewing a film that is comfortably mainstream. Well this run of horror films has helped me break a site record of how many days in a row I have submitted a review, and I have decided that during this run I will review my three favourite horror films (as mentioned during my review for Bad Building), so I’m starting today with the review for a film that is often mistaken for a zombie movie.
“28 Days Later” definitely isn’t a zombie film and it is somewhat puzzling that it constantly gets branded with that, and the reason that it’s puzzling is because there are no zombies. All the infected characters are infected with a virus, but they are very much alive, meaning it’s just outright wrong when someone says that they are zombies.
Because this is one of my favourite films, the plot section below will be far more detailed than usual.
Three activists break into a research lab to free the animals that are being used for research. Whilst there a scientist (David Schneider) warns them not to release the animals as they have been infected with a virus that causes constant rage. They ignore him and are quickly infected.
Skip forward 28 days and bike courier Jim (Murphy) wakes up in a hospital (completely naked for some unknown reason) after spending an uncertain amount of time in a coma following an accident. He emerges to empty corridors and deserted London streets. After exploring somewhat and not being able to find anyone, Jim enters a church and discovers several hundred dead bodies. He calls out to see if there are any survivors, and several people stand up and glare at him. A priest bursts through a nearby door and starts to attack Jim.
Running away, Jim is only rescued from the chasing pack by two other survivors, Selena (Harris) and Mark (Huntley). They inform Jim that the virus broke out and mass infection occurred. They take Jim to his house to get some clothes and for shelter for the night, and they arrive to find that Jim’s parents committed suicide to avoid being infected. As nightfall comes, Jim lights a candle to look at old family photos and several infected enter the house. Selena and Mark fight off the infected but the latter comes out of the fight with a deep cut. He is insistent that the wound is self-inflicted, but Selena doesn’t take chances and hacks him to pieces with a machete. Selena reveals to Jim that she won’t hesitate to kill him if he gets infected.
Jim and Selena travel together for several more days before noticing a flat in a council building with Christmas lights on. After being chased up the staircase by the infected they eventually make it to the flat and subsequently meet the optimistic Frank, and his teenage daughter Hannah (Burns). Frank has set up provisions for surviving, such as buckets to catch the rain on the roof, but they eventually concede that they can’t stay there.
The quartet hear a transmission from a place near Manchester that claims to have no infection. After gathering provisions they start the journey from London to Manchester, and despite it only being a three or four hour drive, they decide to camp out in the middle of a field for no apparent reason, but they do eventually make it to the source of the transmission. It is a barricade in the middle of the road but is completely deserted.
Frank finally lets the situation get the better of him and he launches into a rage as he desperately searches for signs of life. Above him is the body of someone who was infected and a drop of blood drips into Frank’s eye. Frank realises what is about to happen to him and pushes Hannah away. Frank is suddenly shot by some previously hidden soldiers and they are taken to a stately home run by Major Henry West (Eccleston).
West tells them about the history of the group and his men, and also how they are keeping one of of their own alive after he was infected, with the only reason being that he wants to see how long it takes them to starve.
Despite initial pleasantries, Eccleston soon reveals the real reason for taking the trio in, he intends for the women to become sex slaves for his men. Jim tries to fight and save them but he is easily outnumbered and dumped outside of the security wall.
*Spoiler beyond this point*
Whilst lying on the ground and recovering from injuries, Jim notices a plane flying overhead an realises that the infection hasn’t reached other countries yet, meaning that Britain has effectively been quarantined.
With a new sense of hope, Jim returns to the house and releases the infected soldier. Whilst the soldier is killing his former comrades, Jim is killing off others and eventually finds Selena and Hannah before they can be raped. When running out of the house they get to the car and find West sitting there, he shoots Jim. Hannah decides to respond by reversing the car back into the house, leaving West exposed to all of the infected and he is subsequently killed.
Selena treats Jim and they, along with Hannah survive long enough to see the infected start to die of starvation.
So why is it my third favourite horror film?
Where to even start with this one?
28 Days Later is a great horror film in so many senses, ranging from numerous different types of antagonists, the emotionally charged performances of the key actors, the gritty nature that is helped by the way the film was recorded, the uncompromising threat of the infected and so many more than I am really struggling with where to start, and I suppose that I really have to with the way the film looks.
Recorded on normal video cameras, the film looks gritty, dirty and in many ways genuine. It’s a film that doesn’t really improve visually when it is watched on Blu Ray because of how it was recorded, but similar to films such as 300, the way it looks actually improves the film and makes it more memorable.
The way it’s recorded means that important factors, such as poor lighting, feel realistic and genuine rather than artificial. When you see them in the house, or a tunnel, or running away from the infected in Frank’s apartment building, you are seeing it pretty much exactly as the actors are seeing it and how it would be in real life. In many ways I prefer it more than if it had been in HD, or even normal definition. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of people complain about the Blu-Ray release, because of the way it is recorded it isn’t really possible to get the film looking any better via any method, which means that that gritty nature is always there.
As well as the gritty nature, the soundtrack brings you right into the world of 28 Days Later. It is one of only three soundtracks that I have ever bought and it is masterful, wonderous and so many other adjectives that would sound over the top. Throughout, whenever there is a song of any variety, it adds to the nature of that scene perfectly, ranging from the heartpounding chase up the towerblock and the wonderful “In the house, in a heartbeat” is a great way to build tension at the end, onto more enjoyable music such as “AM 180” by Granddaddy, right through to the softer songs, such as “Abide With Me” as Jim finds his deceased parents and Brian Eno’s “An Ending (Ascent)”. It is comfortably my favourite film soundtrack.
It is very rare that the soundtrack and the visuals link up so well, but 28 Days Later manages it and nothing feels wasted. Not once do you find yourself there thinking that it’s an odd choice for a song, everything just fits so well.
Cillian Murphy is outstanding in his breakthrough role as Jim. Again, I’m not entirely sure why Jim is completely naked in the hospital, but for Cillian Murphy to agree to have everything on show is a testament to his dedication. Murphy has since gone on to far greater things and has established himself as a well-rounded, if someone eclectic actor. He brings a great calmness to the film and a laid back way of looking at the role that when he is being chased and is panicked, you feel panicked with him because numerous scenes show him to just be an easy-going guy that you wouldn’t think would be phased easily.
Brendan Gleeson has arguably the most interesting role out of the five main characters in the film as he knows that there is a lot to worries about, and yet he has to stay strong and positive for his daughter. The scene in which Frank gets infected and is saying goodbye to Hannah without her knowing is heartbreaking as she doesn’t realise what’s going on and he has to fight his natural instinct of consoling his child as he knows that it’s only a matter of seconds before he turns.
Murphy and Gleeson’s chemistry was excellent, despite their limited screentime together, and it’s not hard to see why they have both been in movies together since.
Let’s not forget about Naiome Harris though. Her character comfortably has the most development in the film, starting with an attitude of she will kill you if you get infected, right through to hesitating when she’s not sure if Jim is infected or not right at the end of the film. Harris brings a gentle mix of showing that vulnerable and caring side, whilst also having that “don’t give a fuck” mode. For example, when her and Hannah are about to get raped by the soldiers, she consoles Hannah and tells her it will be ok before trying to shove a crap load of valium down here. She’s a no-nonsense style character and it Harris plays it well.
Finally I’m going to talk about the dialogue and how some of the lines in the film are truly haunting. For example, West says “I promised them women” when referring to his intention to use Hannah and Selena as sex slaves. He doesn’t actually say that’s what he will do, but it is heavily implied and it’s such a haunting thing to say as right there and then you know the fate that awaits them without them needing to.
28 Days Later is one of the best British horror films that have ever been made, and ushered in a new way of making horror films.It also introduced the world to Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris, whilst using the established names of Brendan Gleeson and Christoper Eccleston.
Whilst it has it’s critics for various reasons, for me it is a well made horror film and one of the few that presents moments on terror on numerous levels, and not just from those who are infected by the virus.
I would definitely recommend this, afterall, it’d be weird if I didn’t given that I have admitted that it’s my third favourite horror film.