28 Days Later - ... and still terrifying
| Very few films actually scare me. When one does, it’s a treat. When it manages to scare me, entertain me and make me think, then you’ve got the making a great movie.
28 Days Later is all these things. While essentially it’s a zombie film, 28 Days Later is really so much more. There aren’t really zombies in the film. Instead, the film takes the ideas and fears behind the zombie movies and sets it in the real world. The thing that makes 28 Days Later so scary is how real it feels. The reality is terrifying.
In 28 Days Later people become infected with “rage.” The social commentary is clear. Rage, anger, hate turns people into mindless, self-destructive animals and civilization falls apart. It’s our caring for each other that keeps us human, that keeps us alive.
The then unknown, Cillian Murphy plays Jim, a bike courier who had an accident that left him in a coma. He wakes up in a locked hospital room to find the entire hospital deserted. He begins wandering the streets of London which are empty. The film makers allow the silent terror of such a scene to build gracefully. Finally, seeking… who knows… in a church, Jim comes across the first of the infected and he begins to see what is going on. They are mad with rage and their only thoughts seem to be to attack him.
Along his escape from the infected that begin to be everywhere, Jim finds company and learns about how the infection began to move across England. News and communication broke down early and therefore there are still a great deal of mysteries including whether or not the rest of the world was suffering from this infection of if England was the sole hotzone. The question remains, is there any hope?
The film is scary on a number of levels. First of all there is the simple scariness of mad people coming after you. The very idea of immediate survival is naturally quite scary. The film makers do a great job of filming these sequences from the gritty film stock to the rapid yet effective camera work, they manipulate our senses into a panic. Pay attention, it’s beautifully done.
However, this is where most zombie movies stop. 28 Days Later gets into the further levels of terror. The characters wrestle with having to kill those coming for them, the humanness of their attackers and the need to survive pitting them against the helpless infected. Sure some zombie films hint at this kind of question, but I have yet to see one that makes this struggle feel real. 28 Days Later makes it very real.
The death of a major character is exponentially tragic. The small cause of infection, his noble reaction, his touching outreach, his descent into madness. It’s painful and it’s beautiful and it’s terrifying. This is real film making and supports my belief that any film of any genre can be top notch and doesn’t have to pander. The next time someone says, “it’s good for what it was,” that’s B.S. 28 Days Later shows that even the zombie films can be poetic and moving.
But it’s not the zombie like people that are the most terrifying part. Our heroes come across an army stronghold where they are fending off the infected. Here, in this Lord of the Flies society is where things get the most disturbing. 28 Days Later delves into the dark side of human nature and the ways we hurt each other. This part is builds to a frightening climax that both explores the dark realms of human depravity and entertains like a scary flick should. Now the question becomes about ultimate, long term survival. What’s a more frightening concept?
The DVD of 28 Days Later delivers not one but three endings, each one interesting in its own way. The bleak original ending is tacked on as a “what if” and is very satisfying including a very dark shot to end on. The more positive ending that was originally shown in cinemas is actually quite appealing as well and doesn’t betray the film as many “happier” endings do. There is a third ending which is a modification of the “happy” ending and might actually be a bit of an improvement on it. In the end, each is fun and it allows you to pick however you wish to see it play out.
28 Days Later is remarkable for being a truly frightening film. It’s also brilliantly written and performed. Many will find the themes far too disturbing. This isn’t just a slasher film that you can giggle your way through. 28 Days Later is scary in every way.