‘What if there was an elegant zombie movie?’ Boyle sets out to answer that call with jolting viscerality & bludgeoning realism; a post-apocalyptica tour-de-force ghastly in wild 28-day societal-collapse and complex in primal social commentary. 8.8/10.
Plot Synopsis: A group of misguided animal rights activists free a caged chimp infected with the “Rage” virus from a medical research lab. When London bike courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma a month after, he finds his city all but deserted. On the run from the zombie-like victims of the Rage, Jim stumbles upon a group of survivors, including Selena (Naomie Harris) and cab driver Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and joins them on a perilous journey to what he hopes will be safety.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: ‘What if there was an elegant zombie movie?’ Academy-Award winning provacateur Danny Boyle set out to answer that proverbial call and impossible task with his latest tour-de-force 28 Days Later – and it’s such a bludgeoning thrillride full of complex themes it might take you its titular amount of days to fully grasp the brilliance he’s achieved in this empty hospital ICU and off-books laboratory, genre-defining masterpiece. Jolting viscerality & bludgeoning realism make for a post-apocalyptica tour-de-force as ghastly in 28-day society-collapse as it is complex in primal social commentary on human nature.
A zombie move like no other zombie movie. Don’t let the genre fool you: this is not another silly scarefest wherein undead flesheaters slowly stumble around for 2 hours scaring dumb blondes and jocks who are somehow scared witless by something moving at the speed of your grandpa’s hybrid. This is one of the most complex, visceral works I’ve ever seen in the horror genre and beyond. These zombies RUN after you – with superhuman speed/strength, stealth, and bone-chilling red-retinal design all set up in the most realistic of zombie ways in a mad scientist virus motif that finally achieves the scare level Romero’s concept deserves. The twisted sculpting of the concept wherein people turn in a mere 10-20 seconds and you have to take out your loved ones’ or best friends before even hitting double digit second counts only adds to the horror that grips you and spikes your heart rate like a jolt of electricity from its very opening lab break.
However, what differentiates 28 Days Later from its comparatively-dim kin is the indie flair and elegance Boyle and company have achieved in this all-encompassing masterpiece. There’s actually *gasp* emotion & beautiful characterization & character development as this flick devotes just as much time to the lttle moments almost always glossed over by big booming blockbusters as its bombastic action sequences. We see a wildly-stylish and symbolism-rife canvas of a man who wakes up in an empty hospital ward and is taken on a disorientating adventure from horses roaming the countryside to revisiting his childhood home watching home movies of his dead parents to ghouls chasing him through the nightlit streets of London with a makeshift family encountering as much evil in human threats as undead ones.
The social commentary and shrewd political allegory. What single-handedly elevates 28DL to the top-tier of All-Time horror lists and wildly-differentiates it from its concept-kin is the complex ideas juggled by its ridiculously-intelligent screenplay. Sociological ponders on the fragility of society are weaved before us – how easily it could break (a mere 28 days estimated here) and what would happen if it did? Would regimes pop up, currency be useless, violence reign free without government, religion, or morality, etc.? Philosophical, psychological, and scientific ideals and questions are just as intricately explored as well: starting with scientific curiosity and ethics like in the torturous, hard-to-watch opening testing chimpanzees (of course unreal as scientific boards make you list what you have for coffee each morning to-detail IRL but there wouldn’t be a movie without it) in curiosity-killed-the-cat motif posing questions what if we’re tampering with things like rage and violence man wasn’t supposed to tinker with and what if nature is fighting back to return to normal how it was for millennia before humans started ruining the environment, need for social interaction and love/connection as social animals like The Twilight Zone explored, the brutality of our animalistic primal state as humans bludgeoningly explored by its cruel/barbaric sex-lure closing arc, & even more. 28 Days Later is simply one of the most complex horror films ever made with PhD-dissertation levels of intricacy/complexity hidden underneath a zombie shell that should not – and feels wrong being – this devilishly-smart.
The performances, camera stylism, and score. The lead by Cillian Murphy is absolutely sensational – one of, if not THE highlight of his illustrious career from The Dark Knight to Dunkirk to Inception as an innocent trauma victim thrust into this esoteric, eerily-quiet new world just as we are where he has to navigate everything from empty hospital ICU’s to trash-filled, citizen-less streets of London that feels positively bonkers to witness. His heroic demeanor and timid relatability surgically developed into action-star like heroicism by film’s end is only perfectly supported by Naomie Harris’ badass female lead Selena that just exudes feminine strength and firepower echoed by fine performances by the rest of its cast from Brendan Gleeson’s loving father to Megan Burns’ innocent girl. The camera stylism and score are also specifically of-note adding visual/auditory stimulation just as jolting as its ultra-fast zombie-runs. We are barraged by nightmarish quick-cuts, impressionist painting filters, and even expressionist dali-esque color gratings and rain-soaked vignettes all the way to vivid green lush mossy English countrysides rife with symbolism for one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen visually – I wish it was a bit clearer being on a shoestring found-footage budget but hey, that’s the industry now supplying soulless blockbusters 100x more cash than indie masterpieces. The score immaculately balances on the same wire its visuals do hitting both the horror highs and sweet sentimental lows in indie-feeling majesty in the middle familial arc with booming ominous drums in the disorientatingly-wild action sequences countered by milky soothing caressing choir melodies as gentle and rolling as the countryside in downbeat ones.
Flaws are pretty scarce in this tour-de-force of Oscar pedigree, but I wish they’d included more explanation of what happened to make an entire society and country collapse in a mere 28 days. Some glimpses into the actual apocalypse would’ve been nice besides only its start and the rest all-post – but that’s about it.
Overall, 28 Days Later is one of the most ambitious-yet-intimate, epic-yet-grounded, simple-yet-complex films of the 21st century – and one of its best offerings so far. A simple concept of zombie movies is taken on a whirlwind transformation tour spinning up one of the most intellectually-complex scripts written this decade supported by Academy Award-pedigree performances, camera stylism, and score. ‘What if there was an elegant zombie movie?’ Boyle sets out to answer that call with jolting viscerality & bludgeoning realism; a post-apocalyptica tour-de-force as ghastly in 28-day society-collapse as it is complex in primal social commentary. We now have the answer to that question – and Boyle can rest having delivered another film for the ages.
Official CLC Score: 8.8/10