I’ll be honest. When I first saw 28 Days Later… in the theatres, I kinda hated it. It seemed like a boring, pretentious, dare I say *British arthouse* horror movie, and at the time this was far from my style. I needed gratuitous, over-the-top 80’s American horror. To top it off, at the time everyone called it the next best thing in zombie cinema, and there were few voices out there louder than my own who cried, “THOSE AREN’T ZOMBIES!!! THEY’RE JUST SICK PEOPLE, IF I WANTED TO RUN FROM SICK PEOPLE, I’D VISIT-”…but I digress before I start getting stupid and offensive. Anyway, because the film seemed so full of itself, and because of everyone claiming it as the next zombie (even though they weren’t really zombies) epic, I set myself against it. I wanted to hate it, and for a while I did.
Then I grew up, found the film on sale on DVD, and figured, why not try it again. So I did, and of course, I loved it, and if I had a time machine I’d have gone back and told my younger self to try and appreciate foreign films more. Then again, if I had a time machine, I’d have probably done a little sightseeing first, maybe pull a Biff and do some betting on sports...
At any rate, onto the movie.
In 28 Days Later…, a killer virus is accidentally set loose in London by a group of animal rights protestors breaking into a government bioweapons lab, and like most government bioweapons labs this one specializes in creating zombies, this one through the aptly named “Rage Virus”, which basically works like rabies on steroids. 28 Days Later, the entirety of England has been wiped out, save for a few scattered survivors. Among them is Jim (Cillian Murphy), a bicycle messenger who just woke up from a coma after getting in a wreck (yes kids, this exact plot was done before The Walking Dead). Completely having missed out on the end of the world, he wanders the completely abandoned London, meeting other survivors and outrunning the small but persistent packs of the infected. When there comes news of hope from outside the city, this small band of survivors soon finds out that the uninfected may very well be the bigger threat.
First and foremost, what I love most about this movie is how understated it is. While I love my hordes of the living dead as much as anyone else, the small numbers of infected we see here not only make sense, but still manage to pose a tremendous threat, as just one drop of blood and you become one of them in about thirty seconds. As well, the fact that we don’t have to worry about packs of thousands of zombies roaming the countryside gives in to a different type of scare: complete and utter emptiness. Jim spends much of the first act wandering around a completely abandoned London (an amazing feat achieved with only minimal visual effects). The scenes of him ambling around the empty city, calling for help are haunting and almost beautiful and creepier than any zombie attack could ever hope to be. The fact that this film has a killer-creepy soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
28 Days Later… is not a fast-paced film, nor is it a particularly fun one. It is grim, it takes its time, and is very British, but as slow-burn horror movies go, this is one of the best.
(SEQUEL NOTE: 28 Weeks Later… almost made it onto this list as well, because it is a balls-out over-the-top sequel in the best Aliens fashion. However, it didn’t make it into serious consideration because most of its action is thanks to one of the biggest plot-holes in film history, a plot-hole so stupid I could never justify putting it in with the rest of these movies. While I won’t go into details here, let’s just say the end of the world gets a helping hand from some egregious understaffing.)
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-- Matt Carter
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