Thursday, January 10, 2008

Film Review: "28 Days Later" (A+!)

This is one of those perfect horror films that comes across ... well, it feels like once in a lifetime. If I could give it a higher grade than A+, I certainly would. I was completely blown away. Actually, I still am.

First off, I just want to point out that this isn't really a zombie movie. Now some people would argue that I'm being overly technical, but the infected aren't dead. We're told that the infected are just that ... infected. It's a contagious virus, not something that killed and then re-animated the corpses. I make this distinction because I think it's important, particularly when people start comparing Danny Boyle (director) to George Romero, when I consider them as operating in two different mediums. I respect both as filmmakers, but I'm not going to name this a zombie film. IT ISN'T. I hate that the poster calls it a zombie film - I think that was mainly to find a way to market it, but whatever.

Now that I've got that off my shoulders, I'll explain why I love "28 Days Later." First, it's excellently made. Some of the shots that were done ... I still can't quite figure out how they managed, especially when you realize they shot in highly populated areas like Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street (among others). I read that the scenes on the M1 motorway were done by having traffic slow down for a very limited period of time in which the shot was taken. Considering the fact that this move is independent without a high budget like we see in the U.S., I find this amazing. Some scenes were shot on a digital video camera, which is one of the best features of the film as it gives it a much more personal look and forces you to believe in what's happened a little bit more. It's touches like these that set this film apart from other post-apocalyptic horror movies.

The infected are scary as shit. It's as simple as that. The one scene where they jump through the window terrified me the first time I saw it (I admit, it kinda still does). People keep comparing them to Romero's zombies and priding Boyle's decision to make them move faster, but I really don't agree with that. Again, not zombies, so it makes sense that not being a re-animated corpse and not decomposing as you go would naturally make you move around easier and faster. We're still dealing with humans, here! People keep ignoring this fact, but it's actually scarier to think that your family or friends or whoever gets the virus isn't dead. Technically, there could be a cure - how would you deal if you woke up from being infected? Or how would you respond to that person being cured?

The acting is top-notch. A scene that always stands out in my mind is when Frank (Brendon Gleeson) gets infected and forces Hannah (Megan Burns) away from him. It breaks my heart every damn time. All of the actors really connect with the screen, particularly Naomie Harris as Selena. Her stubborn, cold ways in the beginning hesitantly grow into something warmer, battling tragedy seemingly every second. It's wonderful to watch a transition - very realistic, too, when you think about it. Cillian Murphy is also very good, particularly at the end. It's fantastic because it is almost as if Selena and Jim switch places. By the end of the film, she's more compassionate (especially towards Hannah) and still kicks ass, whereas he turns into something dark and vicious - at least partially. Christopher Eccleston, who I love, is just downright fucking creepy in this movie. His answer to infection? Let them starve to death, while forcing young Hannah and Selena into sexual slavery in order to re-populate the planet.

What is greatest about this movie is that there is a great sense of realism throughout. The movie works better when not thought of as a zombie flick, because the idea of infection, what with biochemical warfare and all, is a more realistic (and therefore scary) scenario. Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) has a great quote when he comments that the world is in a state of normality because even before the infection set in, people were already killing people. Now it's just moved onto something more extreme. Maybe I'm a very dark and cynical person, but I can very much see something like this happening.

There are a few flaws in this movie, but none really harm anything overall. Off the top of my head I'd ask why didn't the infected eat everything - why did we only see them attack humans? If they are infused with a sort of rage virus, you'd think they'd just tear anything and everything into pieces. However, I do think that not spelling everything out is a conscious choice of Boyle's. If no one on screen knows what the hell is going on, why should we know? We're identifying with Jim and Selene and having our own what the fuck moments and are terrified right along with them.

This movie kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. I didn't feel safe or normal when he went out in daylight - even then I thought for sure someone was gonna get fucked up. The intro builds slowly and perfectly and the scene in the church is a perfect key into the ignition of a very fucked up, hopeless film. A fact which I loved - if this had ended on a hopeful note, I would have ended up not liking it. I love the sense of desperation. Definitely can't recommend this enough. It's bound to be a classic of some sort, although there will be debates about exactly what it's a classic of (zombies? post-apocalyptic horror?).

However, I can say with some measure of certainty that this is probably the best British horror film. Ever. Except for maybe "The Descent." God help me if someone forces me to choose. It's like my own fucking sophie's choice of horror - post-apocalyptic vs. feminist horror.

Note: If you watch the DVD, there are three alternate endings which ... aren't really that alternate since the same thing happens. But still, it's enjoyable to see the process - especially the one drawn up in storyboards. Definitely worth the money to rent or even buy right-out.

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