In 2002 the Horror genre was violently interrogated by a new breed. Not quite a Zombie film (in definition not style) and not a textbook Horror/Thriller – 28 Days Later arrived to critical acclaim. We take a look at this film alongside its sequel (part 2 coming soon) and piece together its importance to cinema.
Before we begin : Full disclosure : I am so very much in love with this film. It’s not a flash-in-the-pan passionate explosion but more an intimate slow-burning yet still intense meeting of souls. This film and I will grow old together and die in each others arms. I’ll do my best to be objective and try to expend most of my gushing within the first few paragraphs…
Massive blood soaked spoilers ahead (2002. Come on, sort it out)
Fox searchlight have a solid reputation for bringing the masses “interesting” films. Specializing in independent films (and dabbling in Horror and Art-house) they have also brought us the likes of Birdman, 12 Years a Slave and the monsterously successful Slumdog Millionaire. The studio is known for its quirky or outside-the-box titles which, at the time, may have been the thinking behind their releasing of 28 Days Later.
2002 was a strange time for the genre. We experienced Guillermo del Toro’s take on the Blade franchise with Blade 2, the birth of The Ring franchise and the masterpiece that is Dog Soldiers (which we shall talk about in a later post). There were plenty of smaller releases that year but not very many of note (outside of Cabin Fever). So when this film came rage-bounding through the door it was tough to classify. 28DL didn’t play by the rules of the genre. Upon more critical inspection it’s rage-bounding was observed to be more steeped in social commentary than its peers, with some describing it as political allegory and Humanist drama.
Whatever it is, let’s give it a whirl…..
I don’t care what anyone says : A monkey strapped to a chair, watching violent film ALWAYS makes for a great opening to any film. Even from this scene the film gives off a distinctly Romero odor. It’s tense. By the time we see the animal rights activists enter the scene the stage has been set for the carnage to thematically unflop. (Always enjoy seeing David Schneider on a screen no matter the size of the role).
A protagonist origin story that the masses now are well acquainted with from The Walking Dead, which leads us nicely into some of the most iconic shots of London ever created. Simple yet breathtaking – the silence of these scenes alone is deafening and impactful. Its hard to imagine such a city, such a hub of commerce and tourism in a state of total desolation. I remember hearing about how they had to close a portion of the city down to film this at 5 am. [citation needed!]
This remains one of my all time favorite cinematic sequences ever. Jim staggering around the city with his bag of cans, tripping over souvenirs and picking up money on the street. So well executed. The camera angles are awkward and steep, shots flitting between buildings and landmarks, peering over walls and cars, some close up, some far away and expansive. The complete nightmare scenario-omega-man-i-am-legend concept fantastically illustrated. From this sequence you realize that every shot in this film is thoughtful and milked for every drop goodness. The slow-pans and framing are used patiently to reveal every “show moment” in the story, with the camera taking its sweet slow time about it.
The films dark sense of humor is laid bare with the joke told in the shop scene, when we are introduced to Selena and Mark. This is not only Jim’s first interaction with other survivors but it also sets the tone for the rest of the film. That and the gut-wrenching scene where Jim visits his family home. OUCH MY FEELS! The run time is punctuated with quiet sentimental moments usually when the characters are being reflective – this gives the audience a chance to grieve or celebrate alongside the characters or even just space to process the events unfolding.
Objectively the concept of the Frank and his daughter Hannah never sat right with me. But i suppose that’s the whole point. Given the known lawlessness of post apocalypses their apparent innocence is a last ditch effort to get to safety. They are not naive merely desperate. (It’s also worth noting this Brendan Gleeson’s best performance outside of Harry Potter and In Bruges.
The film does however set up Frank in the groups paternal role with the father/son whiskey shopping sequence being of particular note (reminding us again what a great soundtrack this film has in Grandaddy’s A.M.180 and its strangely whimsical, melody-laden quirky jaunt steeped in nostalgia). Jim loses his father for the second time when we see Frank become infected but quickly adopts a new one in the form of Major Henry West.
“Squaddie mentality” is captured well despite the obvious lack of honor among the soldiers but then again it IS the end of the world and everyone is a little strung out. There is a stark representation of vulgarity and dominance in these scenes. Shout-out to Ricci Harnett who played Corporal Mitchell to the point of such a negative degree, so laddy and boisterous – His performance makes the character so utterly hateable to the point of realism. Presumably this is the toxic masculinity I’ve read about on narrative-peddlers themarysue.com. Either that or Jim’s feral-mode killing spree where he becomes the embodiment of rage itself and ends Mitchell.
Danny Boyle is an absolute wizard who pulled a bloody mutilated rabbit out of a hat and made it shit gold. Everyone involved made this an enduring legacy and all for a budget of less than 5 million GBP. The film was shot almost entirely in sequence and originally ended with the taxi crashing into the gate. Due to budget running out Fox decided to give them the money to go back and film the 2 endings we know and love.
The impact culturally of this film, for me, lies in its echoes of the foot and mouth disease in the UK, and the mass panic that ensued. Thematically for the genre the hyper and aggressive editing make for a frantic commotion which perfectly embodies the rage-infected scenes. It’s little tricks like quick edits and cutaways that tell a more cohesive visual story. We can also see Jims initial hazy and soft-lit beginnings in the hospital provide a dream-like sequence of shots.
The 97th best British film ever is one of my true loves, and while we are still waiting for the third installment 28 Months Later to come violently convulsing towards us, it’s worth giving this beauty another glance. This gritty urban apocalypse film that grips the audience firmly by the balls and doesn’t let go for nearly 2 hours did so much with so little and is still a relevant horror 17 years later.