RogerBW's Blog

28 Days Later 31 October 2022

2002 horror, dir. Danny Boyle, Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris; IMDb / allmovie. The zombies are out, and now they're fast.

Yeah, yeah, Boyle says it's not a zombie film, and it was advertised as "genre-busting horror". But it really is; you get contaminated, you turn (more quickly than in the classics). The zombies attack humans, but not each other, and avoid the light. And they have unnatural vitality; they can go days without food, and casually vomit blood without worrying about rehydration.

But what really impressed me was the shooting setups: to get empty London, the crew shot early on summer mornings, often going through arrival, setup, shot, cleanup and departure in twenty minutes flat. One can forgive a few stray passers-by, and the traffic lights still being on when there's supposedly no power available.

Such a pity, therefore, that in its quest to be realistic the film falls between two stools. If you say "it's weird alien radiation, the dead are coming back to life" you're telling the viewer not to poke too hard, that there isn't any sort of hard science basis behind your walking corpses, so they can do whatever you need them to do for the story. If you say "we were working on suppressing aggressive behaviour, and this virus is the distillation of human rage"… well, you said "virus". A virus doesn't survive in a dead host unless it sporulates, and if it does that it's not then going to be able to infect someone in twenty seconds flat. (In fact I think even if you dumped a load of adrenalin into someone's veins it would take more than twenty seconds to get the sort of response we see here.) Why don't the infected attack each other? How do they survive so much longer than an starving human would? This can of worms is opened by the attempt to say that this isn't a zombie film… but then making it work exactly like a zombie film.

I'm increasingly of the opinion that Alex Garland, screenwriting here for the first time, is best at pasting together the good bits of other things and making them look superficially plausible, rather than actually world-building. Yeah, great deserted hospital opening, very Day of the Triffids. Why was he left locked in a room the zombies can't get into? Why didn't anyone else hide there? Where did all the conscious staff and patients flee to, that had more generator capacity and defensibility than St Thomas's Hospital? Why was he the only patient who couldn't walk? (Also a drip bag lasts a day at most, so on about day 6 after being abandoned he'd have died of dehydration without ever waking up.)

We have a supermarket looting scene. Yes, we've seen Dawn of the Dead, we need to have the whole "consumerism is over" moment. But the power is on, because otherwise it would be pitch black inside. (Maybe this is why American films of this sort usually loot a mini-mart with a big front window?)

All the action sequences, particularly a 94-second wheel change in the dark, are shot in close-up with shaky-cam. (The next year the Battlestar Galactica remake would make this a standard style.) It's great for not showing your effects in too much detail, but I want to know more than "person X is in a fight" – I want to see them getting the upper hand, or going under so that they have to think of something clever. I want the story of the fight as well as the simple datum that this is a fight.

It's a shame, because bits of this are great. We don't have the standard zombie-film party of assholes; Selena comes closest, and she's just gone brutally practical a bit faster than the rest of them. There's something like hope here, if not for the old society at least for these specific people. (This is then betrayed by the alternate endings, to which I say: you're an author, and part of authing is making choices about the story you're going to tell, not saying "meh, it could have been like this instead, pick the one you like".)

The principals were relatively unknown actors, which I always like to see: I'd much rather watch someone putting it all into what might be their big break than a Great Star who might be phoning in their third performance of the year. (Except for Michael Caine of course, who always gives the full Michael Caine.) Brendan Gleeson takes a break from his usual hard-man roles.

I do worry a bit about the army unit, though. I mean, clearly they've been through the fire – you've got a major commanding nine men – and I can see they've gone a bit mad; and the way in which they've gone mad doesn't seem entirely unlikely. But where did the major hide his dress Blues through the fall of civilisation? Why don't they worry about conserving ammunition? Why don't they ever have to reload their L85s (30-round magazine)? Why isn't J. Random Squaddie better at hand-to-hand fighting than J. Random Bike Messenger, even if the latter is on a revenge kick?

And where are the radio broadcasts from overseas?

There are parts that work well, and I could see myself watching this again, but I can't be a wholehearted fan of it. And that's without considering the sequel…

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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