FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 5, 2007

Day 5- "No one ever comes back."

In Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), a group of well-intentioned animal-rights activists set a chain of events in motion and ultimately cause the downfall of England- and maybe the world!- just like we always knew they would. Entering a laboratory in the dark of night, the activists release a bunch of monkeys and the such from all manner of cages and machinery. Shockingly, these chimps don't act like Clyde whatsoever- instead of mugging and sticking out their tongues, they go on the attack and make with the chomp chomp (le chomp-chomp, as the French call it). They've been infected with "rage", you see, which makes them mad...and bitey. Soon enough, virtually the entire population of England is mad and bitey and everything goes straight to h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

28 days later (omigawd, wait...that's the name of the movie!), Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a wee coma, only to find himself alone...alone and a devastated London. I've always wondered- why is he naked in his hospital bed? Did someone snatch his little hospital johnnie during the chaos of the infection outbreak? Or is it, like, a British thing? You know, like how they wear those wigs in the courtroom? Maybe all comatose patients must be nude?

Anyway, Jim explores the city, clueless as to what transpired while he was naked. Eventually he meets up with some peeps and they all decide to head to a survival outpost headed up by the Army. Upon reaching the camp, though, they find that the Army has gone mad- mad, I tells ya! Jim and Company have escaped the infected- but will they escape from the clutches of the camouflaged uninfected? Who will survive and what will be left of them?

Boyle's film (written by frequent collaborator Alex Garland) is often credited with rejuvenating the sagging zombie subgenre; this film is not tongue-in-cheek, and these zombies (and yes, they're not really zombies, I know, but it's sort of easier simply to describe them that way, all right?) are relentless, vicious, and they run. Yes, we can all thanks Boyle for spawning the "fast vs slow" zombie debate. Take a little bit of I Am Legend, a whole lot of George Romero, and you've got yourself one entertaining horror flick.

Yeah, a whole lot of Romero. While the "infected with rage" angle is fresh, the plot of 28 Days Later essentially apes (or is it pays homage to?) the story arc of Romero's Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn, and Day) in 100 minutes. 'Tis true. As in Night of the Living Dead, our protagonist is suddenly thrust into a nightmare as zombies go on the attack. Both Jim of 28 Days and Barbara (Judith O'Dea) of Night have to seek shelter as they try to figure out what's going on; eventually they become part of a plucky band of survivors who need to overcome their differences if they're going to stay alive.

28 Days recalls Dawn of the Dead as the band of survivors adjusts (as much as they can, anyway) to the "new" world. At times they border on complacency, but every once in a while they're confronted with the "infected", reminding them that things are no longer "normal". 28 Days even goes so far as to include a giddy "everything's free!" scene and a refueling-the-transportation sequence in which Jim must kill a child (as did Peter [Ken Foree] in Dawn), showing the extremes to which people will have to go in this zombified society in order to survive.

Obviously the last third of 28 Days is quite reminiscent of Day of the Dead- the Army has established a zombie-proof outpost, but the Army are more savage than the zombies themselves; who are the monsters? We are them and they are us! They've also captured a member of the infected in order to study and understand the enemy. Eventually, however, an act of sabotage within results in the barricades being breached, and the audience cheers as the Army jerks get what's coming to them.

I love the first half of this film. The sequences where Jim wanders the empty streets of London, alone and confused, are absolutely haunting. When he finally encounters the infected, it's nothing short of exhilarating- running zombies do get your blood pumping much more than the Romero Shufflers.

Omigawd, I want to start a band called The Romero Shufflers.

Though I've pointed out the echoes of the Dead trilogy in the film, 28 Days Later has a bit more character development than any of Romero's films. In truth, we don't learn very much about Jim, Selena (Naomie Harris), Frank (Brendan Gleeson), and Hannah (Megan Burns), but we end up caring for them regardless. There's more than a few heartbreaking moments in the film- quieter moments that put a personal touch on the tragedy.

The last third of the film- the Army bits- fall a little flat for me, as I felt I knew what was coming. The "we are them and they are us" theme has been approached in countless horror films, and I was just sort of waiting for the soldiers to get their comeuppances. It's still a good ride, however, and the attack sequences are vicious nail-biters- though you think you're seeing far more than you actually do.

28 Days Later can absolutely be credited with reviving the zombie film- it's the Scream of its respective subgenre. It's also a horror nerd's kind of film, as it inspires countless horror nerd discussions- what makes a zombie? Fast or slow zombies? And of course...

What's up with the nudie coma?


Anonymous said...

Cillian Murphy totally hung one out there!!!

Did the doctors try to come up with a reason as why to strip him?

"Hey, he's in a coma, you never know what might happen. Just take all his clothes off & put sheets on the bed, but don't actually cover his batch. You never know."

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the ending where they're rescued by the heroic Finns. The Finns don't get much love.

I'm in on keyboards for the Romero Shufflers.

Anonymous said...

The Romero Shufflers:

"When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will ROCK the Earth!"

M said...

That band should totally happen.

The scariest part of the movie for me is when Jim wakes up to find himself alone, his friends have simply left him in the middle of nowhere. But it's just a nightmare, and he wakes up and they're still there. I loved how they tapped into that anxiety of what one would do if our whole network of friends and family were to simply disappear (like it can happen in a war) and you truly had to rely on no one but yourself for once in your life. Especially considering that it's a mad world out there, full of zombies that don't care about you. To me this movie is about the war.

Craig Blamer said...

Re: Jim waking up nekkid...

... it's best not to give that too much thought. Because after that comes the wondering about how he spent so long a time unmolested in his hospital bed as the city went to hell, how he went near a month without an IV refill, and how he manages to wander about a rager-packed London all day before he finally encounters some just before nightfall.

Love the movie, but it's also hard to get over how much it was riffing on Day of the Triffids in the first act.

Anonymous said...

Two theories re: nekkid Jim.

1. He just came out of emergency surgery when those caring for him dashed off to the intake area to greet an ambulance full o' new trauma (that is to say... INFECTION!! BWAR HAR HAR!!!). They cut his clothes off him when he arrived at the hospital, sent him right straight in for his trepanning (hence that nifty scar on his noggin), and didn't have time to dress him before they had to RUN AWAY!!! Nice of 'em to leave the key, though. (As for the IV-refill debate, I like to imagine-- with a bit of a wink-- that Jim was a huge, hulking, strapping bruiser of a guy when they brought him in-- and now, these long, food-free days later, Cillian Murphy is all that's left. Not that it's a bad "left," mind.)

2. Danny Boyle has just the tiniest of tiny gay crushes on Cillian. (Watch, too, how lovingly he stages the rasslin' matches in "Sunshine" between Mr. Murphy and Chris Evans. [Then, if you're feeling especially energetic, blink in dismay, delight, shock, outrage, or any combination of the four at how the slash community has picked up on the Mace/Capa "dynamic."]) I don't know if Mr. Boyle is gay; frankly, I don't think it matters one way or the other. But I think there's a little crushing going on there....

Heather Santrous said...

I know everyone considers this a zombie movie. As funny as it may be, I have never thought of it as a zombie movie. Since when do zombies starve to death? The people in the film are effected with a virus. Ok, we can say that goes with some zombie movies out there. But I never thought of them as turrning into the living dead. They were always just insane people to me.

I could be way off base but I'm pretty sure we are told that the people infected with the virus are starving to death. At least that was the impression I got when I watched this movie.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Cillian have a hospital gown on? It's been a long time since I've seen it so I can't remember but I don't really see why the hospital staff would bother putting underwear on a coma patient.

I'm fairly sure they're starving to death at the end of the film. They're only compulsion is to attack people to pass on the virus. No room for eating or anything else with that mission on your mind.

The only argument I've heard for considering them zombies is that the infected really are no longer themselves, they are no longer quite human. They do not have any of the other traces of zombification but they do fit the "no longer in control of oneself" portion. There is no conscious mind inside that body.

Remedial Gash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Remedial Gash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Callide Faber said...

I think almost everyone I've spoken to about this movie disliked the last third. There's am alternative ending on the UK DVD but i've yet to see it - has anyone else?

Arbogast said...

Love the movie, but it's also hard to get over how much it was riffing on Day of the Triffids in the first act.

The book or the movie? Because if you mean the movie, then there is a lot of room for improvement and I think Boyle et al improve on the meager gains of Steve Sekely's adaptation in many ways.

I'd say one of the interesting things Boyle does with his Romero influences is to use them against the viewer familiar with Romero's "Dead" trilogy, playing against expectations to jack up the suspense. Case in point: the scene in the second act where the gang is fueling up the taxi... you expect something nasty to happen and it doesn't and even while watching this scene again and again I find myself getting anxious for a grim payoff that (happily, in this case) never comes.

Unknown said...

Day of the Triffids?!! Am I ever going to catch up?! And you've read the book, no less. I call time out. Arbogast, are you assembling a 31 Willies list?

Craig Blamer said...

I was referring to the film version of TRIFFIDS... but now that you mention it, there's another parallel in the book to 28 DAYS (in both, the pair cross London to investigate a beacon flashing from the top of a tall building).

Not disagreeing that TRIFFIDS couldn't use improvement (although the BBC miniseries was a fairly nice adaptation), just that the '62 movie must have made quite the impression on the scripter in his youth.

Arbogast said...

Arbogast, are you assembling a 31 Willies list?

Yes, melissa... yes, I am.