Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston
Release Date: 1st November 2002 (UK)
One of the films that put Danny Boyle on the Hollywood radar was the breakout zombie horror 28 Days Later. Gritty, visceral and rough around the edges, this tense apocalyptic horror about chemically infected and highly contagious humans would define the sub-genre for a generation, and provide the launch pad for its cast and crew.
The film opens with a swift but necessary set up. David Schneider is a scientist experimenting with a rage injection in monkeys, until his lab is hijacked by well-intentioned but reckless animal rights activists who unwittingly set them free and trigger the events of our film. 28 days later and protagonist Cillian Murphy wakes in a hospital bed to desolation and the now infamous shot of an empty central London which has come to define the logistical achievements of this film and set the bar for future indies.
After a surprising encounter with his first “infected”, he is rescued by a masked band of survivors who whisk him away to a hideout. They are one of several small bands of humans still untouched by the virus, desperately moving from place to place to find a solution, or a permanent escape.
The film is unrelenting and merciless in its handling of its characters, fully embracing the reality of the situation and sparing nobody if context called for it. No better is this evidenced than the early sacrifice of a group member immediately after contact with an infected. This established Naomie Harris as the bad-ass kind of final girl in the story, which makes her later subordination all the more heartbreaking, while Murphy’s Jim is the unassuming hero whose character is challenged as he learns to adapt to his devastating new environment.
Fourteen years later and the camerawork is looking pretty dated; this is not a film that can stand the test of time technically, though the gritty low budget style lends itself well to a film which is horrific and no holds barred by nature. This kind of horror really comes alive when the production value is scraped away, such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. There are one too many close ups, but considering circumstance this can be excused, while the petrol station explosion is now almost caricatured in its long-windedness. Little faults within a generally riveting film built on a terrifyingly plausible concept.
If Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t enough to make you a Danny Boyle fan, then 28 Days Later sure will. It is a modern classic in the horror genre, and one that has already inspired and defined the genre ever since.