Dead On

'28 Days Later' is a great zombie flick that does the horror genre justice.

I remember the excitement I felt on my way to see George Romero's Day of the Dead, his third zombie movie. Through home video, I'd become a huge fan of the first two, Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, so, heading to the third chapter, I had great expectations. But apart from some awesome gore (a stationary shot of a man's head being removed while still screaming being one of my favorites) the film was pretty bad.

Since then, there have been a few decent attempts at the zombie movie. Films like Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive were good, nasty comedies, but they lacked the dread of Romero's earlier masterpieces. With 28 Days Later, director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) doesn't go for the over-the-top gore, but he does manage to recapture that dark, brooding feeling of doom that pervaded the Romero films. It's the first great horrific zombie film in nearly 20 years.

Set in modern times, a group of animal activists free some chimpanzees infected with an experimental virus called "Rage." Twenty-eight days after the monkeys go free, Jim (Cillian Murphy), a young bicycle messenger, awakens in a London hospital to discover he's one of few humans left alive. Rage has infected the world, and those who weren't killed run amok in a zombie state, killing everything in their path.

Jim finds a small band of survivors, and they all head towards a radio beacon to broadcast a message of hope for the future, instructing survivors to meet at a safe haven. When the survivors arrive at the origins of the broadcast, it only does more to fuel the sense of apocalypse that Boyle manages to maintain throughout the film. This is a dark, dark movie that shouldn't be seen by those who dislike horror films. This is the real deal.

Technically, Boyle's monsters are not truly zombies, because they have not risen from the dead. They are actually humans still alive with their bodies taken over by disease. Since there's no cure for what ails them--and no chance for a return to normality--their state is actually worse than death.

Unlike the Romero zombies, 28 Days Later features monsters that are cranked-up, running around at top speed instead of lurching about as if in slo-mo. In retrospect, that was one of the faults of Romero's films, because his monsters seemed so easy to avoid. One could walk at a fairly brisk pace and easily outrun a zombie in pursuit, so it was always a wonder how anybody died. In 28 Days Later, there is no question about the threat that the monsters pose: A one-second delay will cost you your life.

Boyle has shot his film on video and blown it up for big screen viewing. The effect works nicely, giving the picture a dark, grungy feeling. Some will undoubtedly bemoan the picture quality, which can be a little hard on the eyes at times. All I can say is that there were plenty of shrieks at the screening I attended, grainy picture or not.

This is easily Boyle's best work since Trainspotting, and he shows a major talent for horror, one of the toughest genres to find true success within. There will actually be an influx of zombie films in the near future, including a remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Resident Evil 2 and House of the Dead (based on the video game). Expect 28 Days Later to win the dread award amongst these films, and hope that this movie does not mark the end of Boyle's horror film career.

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