Review by Paul Stathakis | 2002

Not Romero's zombies

You will either love this movie or you will hate it. It might give you a good scare or it might not do any­thing for you. That’s the way I see it since every­one who has seen “28 Days Lat­er” is divid­ed between two recur­ring opin­ion state­ments: “it sucked” and “it ruled”.

A virus is acci­den­tal­ly released from a British research facil­i­ty. It acts odd­ly in the way it infects humans with rage. Both ani­mals and humans car­ry it and when it begins to rapid­ly spread across the entire plan­et, coun­tries devise pop­u­la­tion evac­u­a­tions. But twen­ty-eight days lat­er, a hos­pi­tal­ized man named Jim (Cil­lian Mur­phy) awak­ens from a coma, only to find out that he is one of the few remain­ing sur­vivors trapped in Lon­don, sur­round­ed by rage-infest­ed beings. So he, along with oth­er sur­vivors, is forced to deal with the hor­ror that sur­rounds the city. The sur­vivors quick­ly find a way out of Lon­don to a mil­i­tary com­pound. But what ini­tial­ly seems like a res­cue oper­a­tion unex­pect­ed­ly turns bit­ter (a sur­prise twist that I won’t dis­close here).

My ini­tial reac­tion when I first heard the news about this project was, “Dan­ny Boyle is mak­ing a film about zom­bies?” Not too long after that, peo­ple began talk­ing about the film with great appre­ci­a­tion, claim­ing it was “scary as hell” and that it rein­vent­ed zom­bie movies in gen­er­al. I thought, “a hor­ror piece that gen­er­ates this much mad hype must be doing some­thing right.” That’s when I decid­ed to pur­chase a tick­et and see what all the fuss was about.

It’s tough to believe that the direc­tor behind the hit British com­e­dy Trainspot­ting is the same direc­tor behind “28 Days Lat­er.” First of all, the image-qual­i­ty is poor. Cer­tain scenes were shot with a hand-held cam­corder to give the movie a slight doc­u­men­tary feel. I could swear I was watch­ing an inde­pen­dent film – I won’t lie about that. But I actu­al­ly had to squint my eyes to make out cer­tain scenes, which made the view­ing expe­ri­ence quite unpleas­ant. This is some­thing Dan­ny Boyle would come up with; he is dif­fer­ent and orig­i­nal in that way. He is also a sol­id film­mak­er who, no doubt, under­stands the logis­tics of fine “cam­era manip­u­la­tion.” But there is an eerie feel­ing in “28 Days Lat­er” that nev­er grows out of its shell. It stays asleep, occa­sion­al­ly peek­ing from a cor­ner, with­out ever ful­ly expos­ing its mad nature. And when it reach­es for expo­sure, the chills don’t last.

What did work for me was the silence. Through the calami­ty that embod­ies the film, it con­tains these qui­et, intim­i­dat­ing moments, where a char­ac­ter is walk­ing in an obscure area and we sense that some­thing is going to leap from one of the screen’s gloomy cor­ners and jolt us. The silence is alarm­ing and works won­ders, as was the case with M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.”

As far as dia­logue and the per­for­mances are con­cerned, again, there is noth­ing fresh here. The per­for­mances are decent, though no one goes into a hor­ror film look­ing for Oscar-wor­thy per­for­mances. The script is unsteady. It doesn’t know when to cite dra­ma and when to sup­press hor­ror. Although it attempts to com­bine both gen­res, the results are not pun­gent and are rather weak.

I didn’t loathe “28 Days Lat­er” but did­n’t val­ue it either, like oth­ers did. Maybe my expec­ta­tions were set too high or maybe I saw it on the wrong day. It could also be that I was expect­ing some­thing arty, along the lines of “Trainspot­ting.” In the end, maybe I just put too much thought into the movie when it seems its inten­tions are to not raise thoughts but sim­ply to enjoy what is dis­played. That could be it.


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