August 3, 2011

28 Days Later (2002)

"Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary."

Okay, I've often said that I'd write a review of "28 Days Later" before now but never got round to it owing to the fact that it's one of my least favourite movies in the horror genre. Having rewatched it, let me tell you why I dislike the film so much.

Back in the 1970's, Terry Nation created the ultimate post-apocalyptic TV series for the BBC called "Survivors". I used to watch this show religiously as a child along with "Blake's 7". I can't say that I was ever really into Sci-Fi but Terry Nation was "the man" back in the day and everything he had a hand in became a hit.

"Survivors" was about the aftermath of a virus being accidentally unleashed which killed most of the world's population. It focused on a small group of British survivors (obviously) who were trying to rebuild civilisation against all the odds. It ran for four seasons.

In 1981, the BBC realised that people needed another post-apocalyptic survivors story and decided to make their own six part adaptation of John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids". Again, this was appointment television for me and I loved every minute of it.

As a teenager, my viewing habits turned from television to movies, and I filled-up on everything from "Night of the Living Dead" to "Night of the Comet". I think, by the end of the '80s, I was pretty much done with post-apocalyptic movies even though there was still something very appealing about wishing that something would wipe out most of the idiots on the planet but spare me so that I could play with all the toys they left behind. I'm sure that I'm not the only one who thought like that otherwise none of these films would ever have been made.

I think you'll guess where I'm going with this.

When "28 Days Later" was released in 2002 (in Britain), I had already seen so many films and TV series dealing with the same subject matter that I wasn't overly impressed.

The start of "28 Days Later" reminded me far too much of "The Day of the Triffids" although little did I know that there was an American comic book being released at the same time which did exactly the same thing called "The Walking Dead" (which is now a TV series itself). Who copied who or if it was purely a coincidence, doesn't matter matter to me. As far as I'm concerned they both borrowed heavily from existing stories. The bottom line is that there was nothing original here.

Another reason why I didn't like "28 Days Later" was how it was filmed. Although I loved "This Life", the constantly moving camera technique was annoying and made the film feel cheap to me. Quick cuts during the action scenes almost threw me completely out of the story and I also could quite happily have done without ever seeing Cillian Murphy's little willy or bare backside. Even with the NHS being as bad as it is, I still don't believe that a coma patient would be left naked.

Basically, whenever I think of "28 Day Later" all I can think of is Cillian Murphy's bizarrely inconsistent character, Jim, and that, in spite of cleverly making Britain look as if a plague had completely destroyed civilisation, I can't get past how much it looks like a straight-to-video movie rather than a theatrical release.

Now, I'll give credit where it's due. Danny Boyle actually did a really good job with "28 Days Later" especially as he limited the special effects and focused more on the characters. For some people that might be boring and, to be honest, there are a couple of moments where you can feel the story lagging which is only to be expected considering the length of the film. Jump scares abound though so it's never entirely possible to relax even during the quieter scenes.

"28 Days Later" succeeds where so many other movies of its type fail because you are never allowed to forget that a fast-running Rage victim might suddenly pop-up out of nowhere and bite one of the people you are starting to care about.

One quite original touch was that it's not the whole world that has been destroyed by the Rage virus but just Britain. Yes, this is a spoiler but the twist, if you can describe it as such, is that Britain has been quarantined. The whole section with the soldiers at the end thus takes on a much more sinister aspect. I knew that that they weren't to be trusted right from the beginning but when the revelation came, I was quietly pleased by its cleverness.

But, even though the good points such as the acting, the familiar faces who have all been in or gone on to greater things since, and the setting itself make up considerably for the story's unoriginality, there's still one thing which bugs me about "28 Days Later". It isn't horrific enough.

I think by now you all know that I'm quite a sick puppy and I love to see as much splatter, torture and screaming for mercy as possible in the movies that I watch. This is where the subjective element comes in. For me, "28 Days Later" is very much a comic book adventure rather than real survival horror. Although there are undoubtedly some nicely visceral kills, I need to see more people getting ripped to shreds and crying for their mamas. It's all rather sparse.

There aren't any obvious displays of grief anywhere in this film either, even from the little girl whose father is shot to pieces in front of her, and I found that very unrealistic. Even if you argue that all the characters are in a state of shock and stay that way throughout their ordeal, I don't buy that for a second. It was simply bad writing. Cillian Murphy's character is so consistently inconsistent that he is an even weaker link than Christopher Ecclestone poshing up his accent and trying to portray a madman. Dialogue, character motivation, and basically any attempt at realistic responses are sadly lacking throughout the film.

I also have to say something about the "zombies". The Rage victims are, as stated in the film itself, just people. I know many people refer to them as zombies but, technically, they aren't. They are still alive until they starve to death which is something that George Romero's "ghouls" never seem to do. Their appearance is gruesome for sure and you wouldn't want to encounter one in real life but they aren't scary to me. There are no bits hanging out of them like the zombies you are used to and their red-eyes and spastic movements are almost comical if you look at it the wrong way. It's like a load of rioting football hooligans got unleashed on the world and there's nothing scary about that as long as you've got a baseball bat to beat them to death with.

I'm still torn over whether or not to include "28 Days Later" in the Vault as it just seems rather average to me. I know that the film has its fans (though there are less of them for the sequel) but I'm not one of them.

Objectively, judged on its own merits, "28 Days Later" is a very good film with enough to hold your attention all the way to the end but it still has major flaws. Also objectively, when compared to the other films that it borrows from, "28 Days Later" actually improves on their stories too without actually being all that different.

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