28 DAYS LATER utilizes a brilliant story of apocalyptic proportions but reduces the premise down to a few incidents. By staging such a concept, Danny Boyle and his excellent crew, have created a superior thriller that juxtaposes genres as diverse as Science Fiction, Romance, Comedy, Tragedy, Horror, Action, etc. All these diverse ingredients are thrown into this melting pot and the end product will leave the connoisseur satisfied and sated on a visual feast for the eyes, an audio delight for the ears and a disturbing residue for the imagination.
The plot may have been seen in films such as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE OMEGA MAN, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, THE LAST MAN ON EARTH etc, but Alex Garland, who I derided for his work on THE BEACH, has crafted a stark work which is blinding in it's clarity. Thankfully, after the Hollywood disaster that produced THE BEACH, this team of British artists have stayed true to their vision and integrity in bringing their daring project to the screen without the silly interference from executives.
Also, it's lovely to see great actors at work, these people carry no baggage from previous roles, their performances are filled with a raw intensity and leave a mark of indelible realism in each scene. All of the bad habits of typical Hollywood acting have been stripped away, there's no surplus fat on display here, no melodramatic outbursts, no cheesy one-liners (the bane of all the recent teenage slasher films), there's even a complete absence of an over-ripe budget to inflate egos and bring out the worst aspects of Stars becoming more important than the material.
This lovely little gem is an example of great film-making. All areas of production have been carefully analyzed and full justice has been done to the subject matter. From the opening, inside a dark laboratory, to the ending in an open field, everything comes together to create a picture with the perfect balance.
This film is extremely shocking and powerful, there's no glory in the violence, no release at all. Just sudden, and dirty, these brutal deaths appal and unnerve the viewer. Characters are lovingly, and realistically drawn and then suddenly dispatched in such sadistic pain that it will haunt the most hardened and jaded horror fan. The atmosphere reeks of unseen menace and danger, wide open spaces with sunlight suddenly become creepy and desolate. We see more horror in a silent, mysterious, eerie street than the whole of POLTERGEIST (filled with noise and special effects). I literally leapt out of my seat when the silent sound-stage explodes with the bleeping sound of a car alarm!
The choice of using Digital Video was inspired because it allowed the film-makers to shoot the film like a pseudo-documentary, fast moving and energetic. Just watch as Hollywood floods the market with cheap imitations in the near future. The fluid camera movements, rapid editing, parched colour scheme all heighten the levels of atmosphere. You just know a film has the hallmarks of a classic when you begin to sense fear in an open, and brightly lit, space. Danger clouds every scene. There's a hazy graininess which evaporates all warm colours, this leaves behind a sense of loneliness and alienation in the mind.
The film is packed to the hilt with visual metaphors which enrich our understanding of what is being revealed, step by step, layer by layer. The opening scene of a chimpanzee tied down and drugged is contrasted with the naked human, in the following scene, who's also laid out in a hospital bed and is slowly coming out of his zombified state. Like a newborn babe, fresh from the womb, he stumbles around in confusion until he finds his mother's milk, which in this case, has been ripped out of the stomach of a soft drinks machine. He guzzles down the fizzy, sugary drink with relish, his body arching backwards as his throat greedily slurps up the liquid. And, just like a child, he burps loudly and with pleasure. Now that he has tasted the forbidden fruit, Knowledge slowly starts to ignite his fuzzy memory. Outside, after he has absorbed the shock of a desolate wasteland devoid of any humans, he finds money on the pavement, he starts to grabs as much as he can until it dawns on him that there's more important things to do. Interestingly, it's at the house of God, a church, where like a resurrected Christ figure (just check out his visual appearance, beaming innocence like a child, the beard on his face, etc), his first experience with a zombie is a priest. Ironic and powerful. His rejection from the house of sanctuary is unsettling for the viewer, it seems to be saying that if there's no safety in the house of God, then where can one find peace?
We later discover that all established areas of life have been disrupted and left destroyed by the mechanisms that Humans have put in place. The Army, representing the State, is nothing more than another tribal group with their own hidden agendas. They are as much prisoners in their fortified mansions as are the raging zombies in the vast open places. No one is safe, not even the rats in the sewers, the cycle of life has been ruined and the spiral downwards into degeneracy has begun.
The film rips away conventions, thus, the zombies are not represented as slow and ponderous, instead, their rage and speed are very potent. They really do have bite! However, these creatures are not demonised, their actions and condition reveal that they could possibly deserve our pity. Compare their brutality with what the humans get up to. The assault on the two defenceless girls by the soldiers is horrific and very unsettling. It was great to see that the strongest character in the film was a woman and Black, what a break with convention that is! And our hero is an Irishman whilst the twisted Army commander is played by an Englishman. A punch in the face of stereotypes!
Some people have spoken about how they dislike the climax of this film. I just have to say that after the traumatic ordeal that the characters have waded through, and also the depths of darkness and evil that they had to overcome, I think it fitting that there was a glimmer of optimism and hope. And even with that final image, what concrete proof is there that all will be well? The message displayed on the green field reads "HELLO", yes Hell is Low, right beneath them, like a grave beneath the grass they're standing on. The jet flying overhead, once again represents the forces of the State. And what happened the last time our protagonists got tangled with the Army? They became guinea pigs to kick start the human race. So, even with that ending, I'm not too certain that everything's all hunky-dory for them. Just take note, there's no shot of the inside of the jet to reassure the audience that the pilot will radio in help for the survivors. There's no close-up of a human face in the plane's interior, just a nameless speck that booms across the valley like a spy. Very unsettling indeed.
The music was simply awesome in what it managed to do. Just listen to the soundtrack as the horses speed away across the fields, or the song that was played over the end credits. Haunting, emotive, sad, melancholic and perfect as the bookend.
This film is undauntedly a classic. A complete masterpiece in all departments. From the scorching acting, the harrowing script with realistically drawn characters, the disturbing atmosphere, the effective soundtrack, the hawk like direction, the brilliant production design, all these factors were beautifully merged in a symphony of psychological terror.
It's a pity that some misguided people are comparing this film to THE EXORCIST or other films in the ZOMBIE genre. That's sad because I personally feel that, despite the nods to other films, 28 DAYS LATER is a work of fresh originality that does not care for comparisons. It stands proud and high on its own merits.
A magnificent achievement, both for the heart and the mind, a tragic piece that will remain with you long after the film has finished. Quite simply, one of the best films that I've seen this year.
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