28 Days Later Review
After Danny Boyle sold his soul to the devil with The Beach, it took a while for the Trainspotting director to recover his lost footing. 28 Days Later, written by Alex Garland, is based on a premise that is instantly appealing to many science-fiction/horror fans, the apocalyptic vampire story. Essentially, most premises are loose retellings of Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend, and many, including The Omega Man and The Last Man On Earth, have struggled to realise the cinematic potential of Matheson’s tale.
28 Days Later isn’t an official adaptation of Matheson’s novel, but it certainly owes much debt to it. Set in present day London, the story involves animal activists inadvertently releasing a deadly virus that gives its victims incessant rage, which causes them to hunger for human flesh and blood. Twenty eight days later, and almost all of England has been wiped out by the virus, with some survivors fighting to remain human whilst being carnivorously hunted by the mutant victims. Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in hospital to find the carnage of London, and wonders where to turn next.
Shot on digital video, probably to aid the film’s ultra-grim visuals, 28 Days Later is an above-average if not perfect British horror film. It wallows too heavily in its depiction of assured pain, and at times the beautiful wasteland of central London is often hard to take in. Visually, the film is brilliantly effective, and yet somehow the performances are not on the same par. Cillian Murphy isn’t the most capable film lead, nor is Naomie Harris a decent enough supporting actress for such a film. Brendan Gleeson delivers a strong minor role as Frank, and Christopher Eccleston is deliciously icy as Major West, even if the actor seems to cameo in almost every British production these days.
Any film based on such a premise will often struggle with loose plot-ends, and 28 Days Later seems content to leave many of the strands as ambiguous as possible. Boyle directs with ferocious intensity, even if his directing eye seems more focused on the presentation rather than dramatic content. Unfortunately Garland’s script is a weak effort, as he seems to resort to cut-and-paste clichés from previous genre efforts in order to provide the film with a three-act setup. Indeed, the whole third act, involving Major West and his merry men, could have sat easier as a middle segment. Even the ending seems tacked-on, as if many different solutions were filmed and Boyle and co deliberately chose the most Hollywood one.
In short, 28 Days Later is a gripping and deeply eerie British horror that refreshingly chooses to base itself in London and the usual Times Square or other American locations. The cheap digital look certainly adds to the gritty realism of the film, thanks primarily to experienced Dogme cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, who extracts some stunning shots out of the capital. Whilst it’s a return to form for Boyle, he still needs to recapture the edge that he so wilfully abandoned in pursuit of Hollywood dollars.