Wednesday, March 30, 2011

London Mauling: "28 Days Later" (2003)

Director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland deliver an intense shocker that never fails to scare.

Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma after being involved in a car accident. He is in a hospital in London, but everyone is gone. Not just everyone in the hospital, but everyone in London. He goes to a church, slowly piecing together what happened.

Some do-gooder animal activists accidentally released chimpanzees infected with a virus that can be passed through blood and saliva. The virus turns its victims into raving zombie-like creatures in a matter of seconds. Jim discovers some of these people at the church, and is saved by Selena (a wonderful Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). After finding Jim's parents dead, Mark is killed by Selena after he becomes infected. This is not a typical virus where symptoms must be observed, if the the victim is not killed immediately, the virus will make the victim kill anyone around them, no matter who it is.

Selena and Jim meet Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), and the four pick up a recorded radio message promising safety in northern England at a military base. They set out on a perilous drive, losing a major character along the way. The base is commanded by Major West (Christopher Eccleston), and the surviving trio soon find out infected zombies may be the least of their worries.

For a horror film, "28 Days Later" is extremely smart. The characters are all believable, especially when you put them in the context of "what would you do?" Jim tries to see the humanity in everyone, Selena is a hardened survivor who begins to soften, Frank puts his best face on for his daughter, who relies completely on him. Despite what you may think, however, this is not a character study. I have not been this scared while watching a movie in a long time.

As you may know now, the zombies do not shuffle, they RUN after their prey. I have only seen this once before, in the 1970's flick "Dead People" (aka "Messiah of Evil"), and it is very effective and more than creepy. The footage at the military base and the country house they have acquired is just as scary, but because of men losing their human abilities and giving into their basic desires, namely sex. Eccleston is an actor to watch, scoring a great performance in "Jude," and doing the same here.

The opening scene in London took me back to when I visited the city in the early 1990's. I literally stood in many locations where Jim is seen walking, making the film even more chilling. This was shot with video, and it totally works. The makeup and gore effects are top notch, but director Boyle does not overdo the shaky camera routine. Glimpses of the carnage are more than enough. The acting is excellent across the board, and the script keeps things moving along. I was never bored.

"28 Days Later" is scary as hell. Put it into any context you want, but it delivers on the basic promise of frightening you. (* * * * *) out of five stars.