28 Days Later (***½)

Posted on June 1st, 2003 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

******************** This Review May Contain Spoilers ********************
This is an intelligent, hardcore thrill ride of a movie. It’s part social  commentary and part philosophical exploration of the innate nature of humanity,  wrapped up and presented to the audience in the guise of an extraordinarily  well-done horror film. Actually, “horror” may be a mis-characterization of the  movie, depending on your definition. Suffice it to say that while nothing  supernatural happens, many horrible things do, so see it and decide the  semantics for yourself. I was pleasantly surprised to find a refreshing lack of preachiness or  over-explanation of the apocalyptic-ish events in this film. In fact, the events  are presented with almost no explanation, and the viewer is left to interpret  things based on what they (and the characters) experience. Also, the movie does  not resort to any sort of trickery, misdirection, or intentional ambiguity  designed to deceive the viewer, and instead tells a most extraordinary tale in a  most direct and unembellished fashion, as if a documentary film crew had  followed our protagonists during their adventure. 
******************** Okay, Definite Spoilers Here ******************** The movie starts at a primate testing lab, where some well-intentioned activists  have set out to free some chimpanzees that are being used for experiments.  Before they can open the cages, a hapless lab assistant stumbles upon them and  pleads with them not to release the chimps because they are infected with a  virus called “Rage”. They ignore him, open the first cage, are viciously  attacked by the chimp, and then the story jumps to 28 days later (hence the  title).  We now meet Jim, who is just waking up from a 4 week coma in a London hospital.  There are no doctors or nurses around, and Jim eventually wanders out of the  hospital and into the empty streets of London.
What has happened is that nearly  everyone in the city has either left, died, or become one of the “Infected”. The  Infected have the Rage virus, which gives them a sensitivity to light (so they  mostly come out at night), removes any semblance of humanity or abstract  thought, and seems to fill them with no instinct or feeling other than to spread  the Rage virus to any and all non-infected humans they can find. This transfer  is made via the blood, so you can imagine the carnage. Once the virus has been  transferred to a person, they transmogrify into one of the Infected within 10-20  seconds. 
As we follow Jim through the story, he meets up with a few non-infected humans,  some who live, some who die, and some who are more monstrous than the Infected.  Jim and his companions are on a quest – to stay alive, to keep from becoming  infected (because if you do your companions will instantly terminate you with  extreme prejudice, not to mention extreme haste), and to figure out what the  hell to do next. Our characters don’t really *know* anything. They don’t know  how long the Infected “live”. They don’t know the origins of the virus. They  don’t even know what’s going on in the rest of the UK, much less the rest of the  world, but before all the media stopped broadcasting they reported that Rage had  spread to Paris and New York. They do know that the Infected are still mortal, and can be killed just like any  other human. And once dead they stay dead, so we don’t have to deal with the  ultimate director’s cheap shot of the undead rising from their undeadness at the  most inconvenient times. In fact, one of the great strengths of this movie is that while the premise is  extreme and (one hopes) unthinkable, it *is* highly logical. The film lays out  the basic groundrules, and then extrapolates them in ways that are surprising  but still plausible and logical within those groundrules.
This makes the movie  almost feel more like hard science fiction than horror. Another strength of the  movie is that all of our characters seem like astonishingly normal people placed  into an unimaginably horrific situation. Our band can be plucky and determined,  ruthless and intelligent, unselfish and supportive, but none are mythically  heroic or larger than life. The story, however, speaks to some very large philosophical issues. For example,  the conflict of good vs. evil in this film is not uninfected vs. Infected, but  uninfected vs. uninfected. Yes, the Infected are key to the story, but while  they are dangerous and scary, they are not evil, as they have no intent. They  are simply carriers of a virus, and that virus turns them into the necessary  delivery mechanism. But that’s what the Infected are, a survival mechanism of an  unthinking virus. And while they wreak havoc, they are no more evil than a burr  that sticks to your clothes in hopes of spreading clover to a new plot of land  somewhere. In the end we find that while our cast of characters have determined that what  they have to do next is to preserve and restart the human race, they certainly  have some different ideas on how to go about it. As a viewing experience, this movie grabbed hold of me from the opening scene  and didn’t let go until the end. In fact, on the drive home from the theater 
Marie asked me what I was going to say in my review, and I told her that I  really had no clue, as I hadn’t once stopped to make any critical mental notes.  I was completely swept up in the story, which is very rare for me.  In fact, I didn’t even have any popcorn during the movie, which might be a first  for me, as popcorn is one of my favorite snacks. The theater complex was crowded  and our sneak preview theater was jam-packed, so I was going to wait until the  movie started then try to sneak out to the snack bar when it was less crowded.  But I didn’t. Just as a frame of reference, I’ve actually walked out of films  (and gotten a refund) when I found the snack bar didn’t have any “butter” for  the popcorn, so me not leaving the theater to get some says a whole lot about  how riveting this film was for me. Also, our sneak preview theater was filled with teenagers (despite the “R”  rating), and it appears that this film is being targeted to that demographic.  However, this film is not some campy “I Know The Wrong Turn You Screamed Last  Friday the 13th”, even if that’s how it’s being marketed. So don’t judge this  one by the marketing or the youthfulness of the patrons, as there are layers  that can be appreciated by thoughtful viewers of all ages.

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