REPENT/THE END IS/EXTREMELY/F*CKING/NIGH
Full disclosure: Danny Boyle is one of my favorite directors. As a director, he is responsible for four films that are consistently among my favorite year after year (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine). He also directed the multi-talented James Franco in the tense 2010 film 127 Hours, for which Franco received a Best Actor nomination from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). So, yes. Boyle is a big deal in my house.
When 28 Days Later released, I wasn’t able to see it in the theaters for one reason or the other. It wasn’t until after the film released on DVD, and I purchased it on Valentine’s Day the following year at a local drugstore, that I wished I’d made more of an effort to see the film in the theater. The problem being, distributed by Fox Searchlight, 28 Days Later was only shown on about 1,500 screens across the United States. Regardless, the film, which was done on a budget of about $10M raked in over $80M at the box office worldwide.
28 Days Later is a film that reinvents the zombie genre. We’d all seen zombies before, for decades, in films like Romero’s Dead trilogy and in films like The Last Man on Earth. Screenwriter Alex Garland took our understanding and general assumptions of zombie mythology and turned it on its head. He gave us faster, more aggressive zombies capable of outrunning a normal human. He gave us zombies with some modicum of memory, of intelligence, that challenged the standing theory that zombies, being undead (but basically dead) would be slow – mentally and physically – and easily overcome, the scariest thing about them being they should be dead, but somehow weren’t.
The only resemblance to the pre-existing zombie mythology is that zombies would probably be the result of some man made thing. In Boyle’s 28 Days Later, that man made thing is a virus that results from a herd of meddling scientists who, damn them, just wanted to make the world a safer place by understanding and trying to cure RAGE. The virus is loosed upon the world when a group of animal rights advocates break into the facility where the research is being conducted and attempt to free a bunch of animals upon which the experimental serum is being tested. Genius. For once, the villain isn’t a shadow organization running outside their governmental mandate. For once, the villainy lies in our own good intentions to do what we see as morally correct. That’s part of what makes 28 Days Later such a psychologically terrifying film. It’s our own damn fault and now it’s time to settle the bill.
Cillian Murphy, (pronounced: kill-i-an) who was not new to film or acting by the time 28 Days Later rolled out in 2002, was nonetheless a fresh face for American audiences. In subsequent years Murphy has given outstanding performances in a wide range of films from the blockbusters of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Inception to independent gems like Peacock and Red Lights. His turn as the bicycle messenger who awakens from a prolonged coma to find the world he once knew forever changed was powerful, an emotional tidal wave. And I’m not just saying that because the actor agreed to do full-frontal. As Jim, Murphy’s character goes from the sheepish boy he was when he was struck by a car and sent into a coma to being a bat-wielding alpha male responsible for keeping those around him safe. Namely, Selena (played by Naomie Harris who appears in the latest Bond film, Skyfall, as Moneypenny) and Hannah (Megan Burns). Jim’s journey is endearing and intensely personal thanks to Murphy’s performance.
Fans of the zombie genre owe much to Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which seeks to return true horror to the moviegoing experience by isolating its characters, challenging them with seemingly insurmountable odds, pushing them to the breaking point and then pushing them a bit more. In the end, not everyone survives – even Boyle, who explored multiple versions of the film’s ending, seemed unsure how best to conclude the story of Jim, Selena and Hannah – but you come out the other side somehow relieved.
With 28 Days Later, Boyle follows the advice of the late-great Alfred Hitchock who once said: “Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
Official site: 28 Days Later site
Wiki facts: 28 Days Later wiki
Is 28 Days Later rotten or fresh?
Watch or buy 28 Days Later on Amazon