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28 Days Later: Mark's Take

01/08/2004. Contributed by Mark R Leeper

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A modestly budgeted science fiction film has society being destroyed by a virus that turns people into violent killers. While some of the ideas and some of the story seem borrowed from The Day Of The Triffids, the film itself seems freshly nightmarish.

When a young George Lucas made AMERICAN GRAFFITI he felt he had a good sci-fi film in him. A lot of successful artists feel similarly they want to get back to the roots of their creativity and do horror or science fiction or perhaps even a comic book film.

Fiction writer Alex Garland has been considered one of the most promising talents in novel-writing since he published THE BEACH back in 1997. Danny Boyle directed the jarring TRAINSPOTTING in 1996

Film review of 28 Days Later

. Now the two have gotten together to make a modest horror film at the edges of the zombie sub-genre. 28 DAYS LATER has strong echoes of John Wyndham's novel THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS (adapted poorly as a feature film and well as a BBC television production) and Richard Matheson's short novel I AM LEGEND (adapted into the films THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and OMEGA MAN).

The film also owes a debt to "The Survivors," a good British science fiction television series rarely seen in the United States.

The story of 28 DAYS LATER involves a highly contagious virus that improbably reduces its victims to ravening killers in just twenty seconds. Society has fallen apart as the infected victims have warred on those not yet infected.

Consider that the person who loves you right now can in thirty seconds be mortally determined to kill you by any means necessary. How do social relationships change? Do people become afraid to love? Is just staying alive, as one character suggests, as good as it gets?

Can one still afford to be charitable to strangers? The one and only positive is that if you are not sure if a person has been infected, in twenty seconds you will know for sure.

The film opens with animal rights terrorists freeing chimpanzees that have been infected with the virus. A lab attendant discovers only a bit too late that much better security was needed to keep the virus in the lab. Flash forward 28 days later. In a scene borrowed from the beginning of THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, a man comes out of a coma in a London hospital only to find the city apparently has been deserted.

The hospital is in a shambles; the street is no better. As our confused patient wanders the familiar streets in his hospital pajamas he can find nobody . . . until the sun goes down. Then he finds more people than he really wanted. Eventually he hooks up with some uninfected people, but their troubles are far from over.

Never explained is how a virus could possibly work to take over a victim's mind in as little as twenty seconds. It seems to be a contrivance of the premise. Equally contrived is the fact that those who have been infected seem to have a homicidal hatred of all those who are not yet infected but seem to be immune from turning on each other.

They even seem to cooperate with other victims in plotting campaigns against those not yet infected.

Anthony Dod Mantle's photography stylishly reduces the view of the world to washes of ghoulish yellows and greens. The rather artificial technique of reducing the picture to lower rates of frames per second can be effective, but seems to be overused by cinematography stylists.

Here it is occasionally bothersome. Still there are some scenes that, while perhaps not really being frightening, are undeniably effective. One sequence in a tunnel is certainly disquieting. The final third of the film breaks down emphasizing more action than horror.

The casting budget has also been kept low with the most familiar face being that of Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as a family man caught up in the nightmare madness.

Between 28 DAYS LATER and CABIN FEVER, the latter due to be released in September, this will be a much better than average year for inventive and disturbing horror films.

I rate 28 DAYS LATER a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Mark R Leeper

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