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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