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28 Days Later: Frank's Take

01/08/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy 28 Days Later in the USA - or Buy 28 Days Later in the UK

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Unconventional filmmaker Danny Boyle has the inherent knack for stomach-turning entertainment that's outright disturbing yet oddly poetic and polished in its gruesome suspended state of mind.

28 Days Later (2003) 20th Century Fox
1 hr. 52 mins.
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns
Directed by: Danny Boyle

Some will recall Boyle's superbly jarring 1996 squalor-induced urban drama Trainspotting that made acquiring goose bumps a mandatory natural high for appreciating the wrenching filth that was so addicting in its rawness.

Now Boyle has come back to shake up one’s antsy skin with the excellent haughty horror opus 28 Days Later.

Grippingly grotesque in all its subversive spookiness, Boyle helms what amounts to be a robust spine tingling B-movie boofest. Quite simply, 28 Days Later brims with intensifying grainy grit.

Armed with a smart script by Alex Garland (who worked on The Beach with Boyle) to match its intentional rough-around-the-edges grizzled look courtesy of Anthony Dod Mantle’s challenging cinematography, Boyle’s surly and hellish sideshow is profoundly intoxicating in its tangy ugly creepiness.

28 Days Later Movie Review

What the moviemakers do here is create an apocalyptic nightmare that reinforces the suspense and takes the audience on a delirious and daunting ride where flesh-eating zombies are the norm and we as onlookers are the horrified intruders.

The morbid mood is just right in that Boyle wants us to settle in just enough to get restless numerous times over thanks to the dingy digital camerawork that captures the ominous images we find ourselves reacting to so nervously.

It’s safe to say that Later is a far cry from Boyle’s previously aforementioned botched exotic-looking paradise-in-peril 2000 thriller The Beach. Unsettling and devilishly terrifying to boot, 28 Days Later is a slick-minded and transfixing dead-man walking flick that gleefully mixes the unlikely pair of high camp and human consciousness in its provoking presentation.

In today’s jittery-induced sensibilities, the thought of headlining outbreaks regarding the all-too-realistic presence of devastating viruses such as anthrax and now the SARS episode certainly rings true for folks who will find the theme behind this frightening feature very coincidental and timely.

When a group of sympathetic animal lovers break into the Cambridge Primate Research Center to free the beloved test critters from what they perceive as risky experimentations against them, the well-intentioned activists inadvertently release what is considered a concocted infective rage virus.

During the so-called "rescue mission", a hysterical chimp panics and pounces on one of the rescuers from its cage and kills her instantly. Despite a concerned scientist’s warning not to open the cages for the unpredictable beasts, the obstinate sympathizers rejected his plea and the damage was already done.

Thus, any potential victim succumbing to the monkeypox viral bite will act just as savagely uncontrollable. In short, all chaos eventually breaks loose and soon the unsuspecting world will be introduced to the toxic chemicals released from that tainted laboratory.

After 28 days have passed since that deadly incident, a young bicycle messenger named Jim (Cillian Murphy from How Harry Became a Tree) awakens from a coma to discover that the London hospital he’s been treated in has been evacuated.

In fact, the WHOLE darn city and surrounding world has been abandoned. Soon Jim will come to realize that an errant virus had been responsible for the lack of human contact. But soon the perplexed protagonist will run into zombie-like beings that had the misfortune of being saddled with the infection that occurred less than a month ago.

When Jim isn’t trying to evade these flesh-seeking freaks looking to make a hearty snack out of his lucky hide, he finds some comfort in a band of confused people that survived the massive epidemic. The leader of this group, Frank (Brendan Gleeson), is accompanied by his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns).

They, along with resilient group member Selena (Naomie Harris), try to give details to Jim as to how they’ve ducked and dodged these zealous zombies while he was benefiting from his deep sleep the past four weeks. And so the weary travelers move on and hope to arrive at a suitable destination where there’s a hint of humanity willing to shield them from the caustic conflict that currently prevails.

What Boyle does to ignite 28 Days Later is absolutely marvelous yet tricky. He is shrewd to the point that his distinctive zombie flick isn’t saddled with the conventional dice-them-and-slice-them mentality that is so pervasive in cliché-driven expositions of this genre that have a tendency to lean on the overwrought cheesy side.

The cynicism and overall sinister machinations are not too manipulative and actually invite some eerie excitement for those who happen to appreciate their "zombified" zest with traces of philosophical ambiguity. Strangely enough, Later is laced with a peculiar sense of thought-provoking vibes that echo the impulsiveness we have within ourselves as vulnerable mortals.

Whether we need to inject the madness within ourselves or have other fearful forces heap it upon us, Boyle is savvy enough to question the unassuming tendencies of the way humans (or non-humans if you count your friendly neighborhood red-eyed zombie or the world’s animal species of many varieties) cope as slaves to their fragile psyches.

With all the deliberate gore that dresses itself up in vomit of contagious blood and other severed body parts, 28 Days Later actually makes for an insightful and unexpected psychological thriller that works on your mental mode.

If anything, Boyle isn’t afraid to flirt with the depths of depravity pertaining to human nature. The dark and desolate isolation (witness the dreary, lonely London streets for instance) enhanced by the vague rage virus (perhaps a convenient connotation for pent up human disillusionment) makes for the perfect head-scratching and haunting platitudes where fright fans might enjoy their fondness for Night of the Living Dead with a twist of introspective forethought.

Granted that Boyle’s creepshow tails off toward the end as he relies on some cockeyed military mission subplot to end the destruction caused by yet another catastrophe that mankind has managed to give birth to in the name of worldly advancement and all-around arrogance. But even this slight turn cannot ruin this oddly thoughtful bloodbath.

28 Days Later is ruefully soulful in its scruffy flamboyance. Whether one will attribute this tension-filled nail-biter to the effective surreal dank visuals or the piercing soundtrack that gives this nasty narrative its furious dizzy drive, one thing is definitely clear—civilization is far from being civil and the low-budget lyrical scarefest that Boyle patches together so perversely demonstrates this very same sentiment.

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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