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28 Days Later

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: 28 Days Later

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris
Director: Danny Boyle
Rated: R
RunTime: 112 Minutes
Release Date: June 2003
Genres: Horror, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Megan Burns, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Alex Palmer, Christopher Dunne, Toby Sedgwick, Emma Hitching, Jukka Hiltunen

Review by Harvey Karten
2 stars out of 4

It's fashionable in academic circles to say that civilization is an exception; that we human beings are all a bunch of raging animals who fortunately possess a fine veneer of culture that holds us in check. Just look at what drivers do on the road when the cars in front of them are not moving like a greyhound out of the gate as soon as the light changes to green. On the larger scale as one character says in "28 Days Later," mayhem is the norm. History is nothing but people killing people. The 20th century was, after all, a hundred years of nations raping other countries, ethnic cleansing, murders for nothing we can rationally understand.

You could interpret Danny Boyle's latest film as a metaphor for worldwide chaos, but why bother? "28 Days Later" is a genre film, a good ol' horror story that could be seen as an off-the-wall follow-up to Terry Gilliam's "Twelve Monkeys," which was about a world of the near-future in which a prisoner is sent back in time to discover the source of a plague that killed billions and forced society to move underground. The plague this time around is not about SARS or AIDS, because those catastrophic illnesses do not cause sufferers to become violent quite the opposite. Instead, Boyle's picture, written by Alex Garland, is about a disease that doesn't take five or ten or fifteen years to become virulent, but a mere ten or twenty seconds. Anyone whose mouth comes in contact with the blood of a contaminated person turns instantly into an inarticulate wreck with no thought other than acting as a killing machine. This could be pretty scary stuff, and the film is blessed by intelligent, visceral acting particularly by a pair of relative unknowns. As for scares, the problem is that the DV photography and rapid editing during the gory scenes distances us from the action. Rather than close in each time an enraged, infected person tears into an innocent, Anthony Dod Mantle's camera pulls away. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it's what separates this movie from the likes of campy stuff like the "Scream" series which pulls no punches about the violence inflicted on people by crazed axe- murderers. But the swift editing and deliberately blurred visions of the near-zombies can make some of the violence seem sanitized, unreal.

The very opening scene is actually the best in the story. A group of radical animal rights people break into a lab to free the imprisoned chimps. They take pictures to show the clueless masses outside, but ignoring the warnings of the caretaker who assures the liberators that the animals have been deliberately infected with a rage virus in order to discover new drugs to calm enraged people, they let loose the creatures and are attacked by the ungrateful beasts. 28 days later, a courier by the name of Jim (Cillian Murphy) finds himself in a deserted London hospital and, going outside to Piccadilly Circus discovers a vast emptiness, later bodies on the floor, and is attacked by the local priest. Jim is rescued from an attack by one Selana (Naomie Harris) and later run into Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). When they join up with a small group of soldiers in Manchester, having bolted from town in Frank's cab, they are assured by Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), that they will be safe with the army contingent. Their problems are just beginning.

In helming a genre film (though the infected people in the story are not zombies but rather living human begins who are diseased and out to kill), director Boyle's chief interest is to show a naive, harmless fellow, Jim, turn into an angry, vindictive person not only out of justifiable self defense but from the accelerated course in survival he receives in the hands of a resourceful, imaginative and determined woman. Eager to find some sanity in their tight little island, Jim who in a twist winds up having issues with the army protecting him must find some sanity in a nation gone mad not from an attack by a hostile country but by biological terror that has been unwittingly unleashed by animal rights activists whose hearts are in the right place but who probably sit on their brains. I simply wish that Chris Gill could have lightened up on his editing equipment and that Danny Boyle could have slowed the action so that we could focus on the faces of the near-zombies who are terrorizing their own people thereby punctuating the week of nightmares that we desire from such a movie.

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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