Frank lives by hope even if his daughter Hannah has no hope thanks to the death of her mother, and his is infectious as he spreads this radio frequency offering salvation to survivors to his new friends begging them to believe in this new world, and they have no choice but to seek it out or remain in this city where hope has all but deteriorated in a sea of dead bodies, and massive skyscrapers that now look like tombstones for the dead. Frank’s entrance in to the fold is true heroism and one that is based around his hope for life in a world void of it and hoping to gain their trust allowing for caretakers in the event of his demise. For a man whose seen nothing but chaos, he is shockingly high spirited and provides his new guests with smiles, pats on the backs and giggles because it’s about all he can do to keep up the morale of his daughter who has seen the world die before her eyes. He even keeps their gold fish alive in the wake of their clear lack of any water, in spite of his best efforts to grab some on the knowledge of a television show he’d seen one night. Jim and Selena can’t help but be charmed by his determination and unflinching grasp for some new world out there beyond their reaches, and they go for it with an old taxi Frank claimed in the midst of the carnage.
Selena is a woman who in a month has managed to build a shield of apathy and warrior-like swiftness to her and she has to drop the veil down once again when she finds a new family within these three strangers who all have their own goals and their own wishes for a new life. She forms a bond with Mark and in a split second has to decide if she should murder him or wait to see if he turns on them. She then spends only mere moments mourning for him and has to move on with her life. She doesn’t want worldly attachments anymore and this is displayed in her willingness to leave Jim behind when the infected are chasing them up the steps. But, like all of these other people, she secretly wants normality back and tries to achieve this through medicating herself to sleep. But surely enough Frank rebuilds this air of faith and optimism.
This is all made apparent when in a classic tribute to “Dawn of the Dead,” they all find a deserted shopping market, and indulge in some of their old vices that keep them connected in their consumerism, but individual in their needs for their old life. Frank goes for wines and fruit, Selena reaches for chocolates, Jim for canned fruit and for one moment they find a brief ray of joy with their old foods they took such great zeal in and possibly took for granted when society was calm and monotonous. Unlike many other horror films, Boyle and Garland enter in to the psychosis of its survivors and dare to show us what damage this turmoil is having on our protagonists. Jim’s own nightmare about being abandoned in a world he’s still not adapted to is very much a realistic vision one can expect, especially when he uses Selena’s drugs to force him in to unconsciousness. Vivid dreams are a side effect of sleeping pills and anti-depressants and we’re given a peak in to the damage this new society has inflicted on Jim’s own subconscious. Boyle unlike a lot of other major directors, is willing to off whatever character he sees fit and he practices this method in spades by destroying the group’s last ray of sunshine Frank. His evolution is gradual throughout the narrative of Garland’s own premise as he’s shown as a beaten down man providing hope for his daughter, a beaten down man given hope because of his daughter, and a man who slowly loses hope when he finds out the radio signal he’d been chasing has led him in to a virtual dead end as the city burns in the distance.
Frank is instated as the leader of the small band of survivors due to his willingness to do whatever it takes to survive and rely on his wits to get them through the darkness. This is made apparent when he keeps a vigil over his friends. Jim calls him dad. And he’s happy with this title, because he’s become their protector and mentor over the course of their time spent together. They all have one big dream to live a life in peace and safety and that’s firmly out of reach when Frank’s one outburst of anger allows a drop of blood to seep in to his eye infecting him. Frank’s death is a truly gripping and heartbreaking moment in the narrative as the man who’d remained calm in the face of adversity is punished for his moment of questioning his own faith. Frank has to battle with his own rage while Hannah looks on in horror and anguish while Jim is faced with the dilemma to make sense of this new situation and try to bring down Frank who will become a bonafide killing machine in mere seconds if he doesn’t act quickly.
The look of confusion and sadness on Jim’s face matched with Selena and Hannah’s cries is the best moment of the story as they get their wish for salvation only to see their friend Frank fall under the gun of a unit of the military hiding in the woods. Of course this salvation is met with a shifty group of male soldiers all of whom have obtained a mansion for their own purposes bringing about a distinct undertone of homophobia among the men who fight for territory and concoct some wild idea that they must procreate and bring about this new world before them. And they find it through Selena and the prepubescent Hannah. Why Jim continues fighting once they’ve entered in to the realm of these madmen is pretty ambiguous but it’s entirely possible that Frank’s own struggle for life seeped in to his own mentality and this allows him to reach in to his baser primal instincts to become one hell of an ape-like warrior that hints at the more ethereality of this infection that can infect us without ever making contact with our blood. Through Jim’s own struggle to save the girls, he builds a massively ingenious plan that involves cutting off the soldiers resources and freeing their infected prisoner who restarts the stream and takes siege on the dark mansion. Jim flees and looks for the girls relentlessly and gets in touch with his own strength when defending Selena about to be ravaged by one of the soldiers in a room.
The only reason why Selena doesn’t kill Jim as soon as he approaches her drenched in blood and sweat is because something inside of her is grasping on to the hope that he survived this onslaught of attacks and viciousness while Hannah’s own sense of survival also manages to kick in allowing for tactics involving keeping balanced behind a large vanity mirror that keeps her shielded only because the infected despise their own reflection. Against her better judgment, Selena holds out faith and trusts in Jim’s own emotions, and Hannah just seeks out a way to live through the night attacking him from behind and killing Major West backing him in to the darkness leaving him to be torn to shreds by the infected who reclaim their mansion. The happy ending is something of sheer beauty as the characters have all discovered Frank’s dream was real and there’s a hint of sadness that he couldn’t be there with them to enjoy it. Hope kept them all running and fighting until the very end.
It was only obvious “28 Days Later” would become a franchise, and one that has been reliant on themes of society, military corruption and misinformation, most of which seeped in to the sequel where the infection was able to breath new life in to society and spread thanks to the misguided military complex that sought out to snuff out a sickness it had no idea how to properly contain or dissect. We learn in the finale of “28 Days Later” that the one hope for this sickness dying out is the inevitable starvation of the infected, all of whom waste energy and their own bodily fluids without a clear cut source of nourishment, especially since they’re not cannibalistic. Many people take the low key atmosphere and dread for granted, but “28 Days Later” is without a doubt one of the strongest and most compelling horror films I’ve ever laid eyes on and one that broke many conventions of storytelling. It’s an under-appreciated masterpiece, and one I grab on to every year to sit down and watch.