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'28 Days Later'
is an art-house
zombie movie

July 3, 2003
By Franklin Harris

Take the premise of "The Omega Man," add the atmosphere of "The Day of the Triffids," toss in a dash of "Night of the Living Dead," and you get "28 Days Later," an apocalyptic zombie movie by director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland.

I say it's a zombie movie, but that's not quite right. Don't expect the gut-munching gore of George Romero's films, much less the over-the-top splatter of Italian epics like "Burial Ground" or Lucio Fulci's "Zombie." This is a horror film about the human condition.

Coming from the director of "Trainspotting" and "A Life Less Ordinary" and the author of "The Beach," the film version of which Boyle also directed, "28 Days Later" has a definite indie-film sensibility. It's shot on digital video and has that grainy, washed-out look that is so common nowadays in low-budget, art-house cinema. But you can't argue that the bleak cinematography doesn't fit the material, now can you? This is the End of the World, after all.

Or the end of England, at any rate.

After spending at least a month in a coma following a traffic accident, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in a London hospital to find both the hospital and the outside world deserted. There's no electricity, no television and no telephones. All of the trappings of civilization are useless.

What we already know, but Jim doesn't, is that 28 days earlier, some animal rights activists decided it would be a neat idea to "liberate" a few apes used in laboratory experiments. Try telling them that the aforementioned apes are infected with a highly contagious virus.

The movie leaves the virus a bit sketchy, but a lab technician says it's rage. I don't think you can bottle rage, so I'll assume he was speaking metaphorically. Anyway, the science doesn't matter, and most sci-fi and horror movies spend too much time making up bad science. It's better to gloss over and move on.

Before long, Jim stumbles upon a church, its pews filled with the bodies of those seeking otherworldly intervention in their final moments. (Don't ask why they all remained seated while being dismembered by zombies. It doesn't make sense, but it is a striking visual.) And, of course, he stumbles upon infected humans, too.

The infected aren't the mindless, lumbering cannibals of other zombie flicks. Strictly speaking, they're not even zombies, as they're not undead. They're ravenous, red-eyed, fast-moving predators who kill for no reason and spread their disease through their blood and saliva. Perhaps they are, as such, a comment on the growing problem of violent crime in the United Kingdom. In any case, they're dangerous.

Rescued by two other survivors (played by Naomie Harris and Noah Huntly), Jim learns that Great Britain is all-but abandoned, and the rest of the world may have fallen to the infection, too.

Now, this is an interesting difficulty. We know that the virus turns a healthy person into a snarling animal within 30 seconds. So, how could any of the infected spread the virus abroad? It's not as if they could get on a boat or airplane without being noticed.

Still, plot hole aside, Jim and company, including a father and daughter (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns), make for Manchester, where a radio recording promises protection and "the cure to infection." Thus, the main part of the film is a road movie, with our heroes reflecting on life and death while avoiding the infected who haunt the countryside.

While I do recommend "28 Days Later," it doesn't really get interesting until the final half, and I can't tell you why the final half is interesting without giving too much away.

I'll just say that there are things that are more frightening than zombies.

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