On Second Thought: “28 Days Later”

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The zombie film is nothing new, even if it’s not involving zombies like most think of when the word “zombie” is thrown around. If there are crazed or dead people running around biting and tearing innocent people to pieces, that’ll do it! The only thing that’ll be up for grabs is how good or bad the film’s story is. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but when you really want something that’s more than braindead fun, it’s hard to randomly look around and find what you’re looking for.

The Fox Searchlight Pictures film “28 Days Later” is way more than zombie filled sequences, and that’s what makes it worth revisiting numerous times. It’s what made me fall in love with this film all over again. It’s what made me hate that up until today, I hadn’t seen this film in at least six years, which as I type this and think on it, it’s probably been closer to a decade. Oh, how time flies and the reasons to do something finally arrive. While I’ll forever kick myself for not taking time to see this film at least more than twice, I’ll forever know that because of my inability to make time, I was treated to a zombie thriller unlike many others I’ve seen and also loved.

Fast Friends

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A hallmark of this film, other than the zombie-like creatures and how they came into existence in the first place, is how much focus is spent on the characters. Horror films tend to spend little time with characters, unless they’re being badass and fighting desperately to survive, and zombie horror films somehow seem to spend even less. But not here. Here, you get something that I’m sure hasn’t appeared in any kind of zombie film, a proper one or quasi-zombie film ever since the release of this one.

You get human drama on a level that actually resonates. For once, when trying to explore humanity in a major crisis, even if it is made up and almost farfetched, you get to see what’s become of humanity and genuinely respond. More importantly, through various sequences and introductions, you get to learn about the main characters and find a way in that allows for you to actually care about them. Make no mistake, you also get some incredible badass moments, especially from Naomie Harris’ Selena, whom I once again and quickly, discovered is still my favorite character!

Such instances include the comical and informative grocery shopping sequence. In a film like this, how is it possible for a fun shopping trip can seem so natural and normal? I don’t know, but I love it the most either way. The sequence itself pretty much tells you everything you need to know about them, on top of what you’ve learned already. It’s written on their faces, their interactions and it hits you too as if you were there partaking. Another big moment, which is really several small moments, is when Harris, Cillian Murphy, Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson’s characters all get together. First it’s for survival, plain and simple, then it’s about more than that. Survival’s still a top priority, but they’re growing and bonding as a whole group. It’s what makes something as simple as a car drive with occasional glances out the window so perfect and peaceful, even though in a single moment all that could end.
This type of growth, which sometimes only need to be showcased in one single line of dialogue, like when Harris says to a sleeping Murphy, “Come on sleepy head.” It’s all about the way she said it. However many days have really passed, they’ve each grown with the help of one another and I can easily buy it. It’s real. It’s why when tragedy does strike the group (semi-spoiler), you can genuinely feel sad.

Somehow all this character exploration and depth worked. I can’t figure it out, but for a zombie film such as this, and one that’s getting quite up there in age, it’s a welcome surprise. More of the same is not what writer Alex Garland was aiming for, and it paid off. It’s funny, that while this approach may have been so novel and amazing at the time, now it’s just so expected with a lot of different TV shows and a few films. Sometimes, in order to truly stand out, you need more than just action, scares, and blood and gore.

Of Monsters And Men

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With the human drama that is what really propels you through this, and is handled quite gracefully, everything else that makes this film a lot of fun, can come in and out. With no beats being missed, the only thing that’s needed is a villain. Well, in the case of this film, which itself isn’t that novel anymore, there are two.

Humanity may be well documented and make you fall in love with these characters, or strongly enjoy them, but there’s always a flipside. There’s darkness that lingers. It waits. For Harris and company, it shows up at the end of the film as a decent example of what happens to some people just trying to survive. Like with other aspects of human drama explored, this too is good and welcome. You get a different perspective. But it’s brutal. As it turns out, not all that are alive are truly that good. In an effort to survive, they’ve now resorted to some basic human instincts. It’s how, after many other exciting and thrilling moments, we get a finale that’s well earned. After the illusion of safety is shattered, it takes a turn for the chaotic! Violence! Mayhem!! Blood and gore!!! What’s not to love?! Once things take off and Murphy’s on a quest for revenge, it doesn’t stop! It’s the kind of short burst action that viewers were treated with and could expect to deliver the thriller aspects of this film.

Prior to this exciting showdown, which could easily and understandably be seen as a negative, this type of action came in short bursts. The exploration of humanity may give you some time to breathe, but really it kept you on your toes. Anything could happen and any one character could be affected. So, when these thrilling bursts did occur, they were intense. They didn’t let up and pushed you deeper into this dark and dreary world. It’s because of this approach, that a simple trek up some stairs turns into a fight for survival as infected chase after Harris and Murphy. It’s how a flat tire becomes a prime opportunity for some of the infected to munch on the living. Not only are they thrilling because of the buildup, but your investment in the characters. This desire to see the characters live makes it possible to believe that any one of them could die.

If the film had ended with all the characters dead in the end, somehow I’m sure I would’ve been okay with this. Sad about it, but because of the way the story came together, and the thriller and character driven aspects worked, I would’ve been able to see it all as a win. But, we got what we got and are all better for it. It shows what can happen when characters are actually considered. When it’s not merely about delivering blood and gore or action sequences that energize you throughout. It’s really a shame that not many other films, be they zombie or some other horror film, didn’t seem to learn that lesson.

Originally Released: June 27, 2003

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Alex Garland

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns and Brendan Gleeson

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