28 Days Later
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson
Hearing the word post-apocalypse might invoke images of the type of “horns-up,” Mad Max-ian fare you’d expect to see after, say, a paramilitary nuclear standoff or a gigantic meteor collision. “28 Days Later,” however, is a film brought to us by the same country that produced the likes of “Dr. Who” and “The Prisoner,” arguably subtler if not more tedious takes on the sci-fi genre.
So when the protagonist of “28 Days Later,” a young bike courier named Jim, awakes from a month-long coma to find himself completely alone in empty downtown London, it looks and feels like a character study in isolation and despair, a one-man show with an eerie post-rock Brit-guitar soundtrack. After watching Jim putz around the shadowy wasteland that’s left under Big Ben desperately seeking human life, you start to wonder if apocalypses are so bad after all. By God, Jim has the place to himself. The movie could end here and be one half of a good “Twilight Zone” episode. But then there is a broader question to be asked: “What would happen if everyone in the world except you were suddenly infected with a deadly virus that transforms them into blood-thirsty mutant zombies?” From the same collaboration that brought us “The Beach” in 2001 comes a straddling of two opposing genres, a film that could float along as a social drama if it weren’t for the redeeming gory interruptions straight out of Romero’s “Dead” trilogy. When the giddy entourage of survivors hits up a fully stocked grocery store, taking special care to ponder over the right hard liquor for the occasion, you might get lost in the pathos and forget that every nook and cranny of the city is teeming with hard-sprinting, indefatigable cannibals.
The cinematography by “Dogme 95” D.P. Anthony Dod Mantle is a nod to both varieties, shooting the whole film on digital video using stark lighting and motivated angles to capture the hopelessness of post-infection England while employing tricks straight out of a B-movie horror handbook, such as quick edits of closely cropped shots and dropping-out frames to make the ripping and tearing of human flesh even more unsettlingly violent and unpredictable. But as in the hack-up sequence dutifully carried out by Jim’s requisite love interest, Salene, on an inflicted compatriot after he’s been bitten by a zombie, the static camera work following the zombie attacks exposes these acts as crude instincts to survive, humans at their limit.
The film works more as a slasher zombie flick than a social commentary on the toll of war and death on the human psyche that it tries so hard to be, with all those close-ups capturing the sad and vacant shadowy look on Jim’s face under his tragically hip haircuts, of which there are three distinctly stylish phases, leaving us thankful at least that the apocalypse managed to spare the lives of the two best-looking people in London.
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