Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later” came along at a very tough time in my life. Like most movies that are around during difficult periods in your life, they tend to have a very important impact and influence on your mood and overall outlook on your fate. Around the time “28 Days Later” was released, I was about to go in to open heart surgery. And while my survival rate was very high we were all considerably on edge. I remember that year my dad took us to see “Terminator 3” in theaters to cheer us up, and on the way home we bought the bootleg VHS for “28 Days Later” which didn’t work. Days later I was able to obtain another copy with crisp quality and indulged in one final incredible horror movie before I went under the knife and endured an excruciating week in recovery that involved sleepless nights, aches, and a hospital ward waiting to see if I’d slip in to an infection or heart failure at any minute.
“28 Days Later” pretty much did what it set out to from the teaser trailer and that was grab me by the throat and leave me wondering what I’d just seen. I don’t really recall what movie I’d gone to see that day (It might have been X2), but I can still recollect being in the theaters and seeing a montage of scenes including the infected running across the fields, the African American infected peeking in through the window, and Cillian Murphy running from the infected priest. Drawing its influences on “Day of the Triffids,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead,” Danny Boyle’s indie horror film about a massive infection that lays waste to Europe is one of my favorite horror films of all time and continues to be a film I will sit down to watch over and over again without ever growing tired of it. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the sequel which is entertaining enough but not as gripping or emotionally invested in its characters as Boyle’s film. “28 Days Later” is one of the few films ever made that has stuck with me since its release in theaters and I’ve attempted to seek out about as much information as humanly possible since its initial release in theaters.
I can still remember sitting down to watch the entire DVD including the special features where I learned a lot about the directions this movie was going to take. One final ending included the rest of the group conducting a blood transfusion on Frank that didn’t make a lot of sense, another involved Jim dying after the gunshot wound and a chicken taking his place in the happy ending. And in another alternate ending, Jim dies on the table in the abandoned hospital while Selena and Hannah leave his body along a gurney. They turn walking down the dark corridors of the hospital engulfed in darkness wielding their guns and the film comes to a close. That would have and should have been the logical closer because not only is it unflinching in its bleakness and provide us with a mature look at the end of the world where even those who fight for their lives are invulnerable to fate, but it allowed a better segue in to the sequel where we never heard from Jim, Hannah, or Selena again.
No cameos, no lip service, no extras, no explanation, they just disappeared in to the background. Nevertheless “28 Days Later” remains one of my top ten horror movies of all time and my top movies of the decade, a grizzly and often uncomfortable little foreign gem from Danny Boyle whose own guerilla style filmmaking and grit make for one of the most compelling bits of horror ever made. Re-popularizing the concept of the running zombies, “28 Days Later” really does offer the notion of the world ending while one single man slept and narrowly avoided the clutches of the infected who were outside his door all the time waiting for someone to pounce on.
There’s not a lot of explanation needed for how Jim survived, or who left the key under the door for him, but the little plot device involving the key is Boyle’s own subtle hint that even during the carnage, bloodshed, and sheer mutilations taking place, someone had hope that this one man would see tomorrow and make it, thus this one little key is one ray of hope and Jim’s entrance in to hell. Jim is safest in the confines of his hospital room, being kept alive by tubes and wires and being shielded by the solid door keeping out the infected. When he dares to venture outside of the womb in to this new world where the humans have all but been exterminated or have disappeared in to the darkness, this is more than a little surprising. Especially when he happens to enter in to the holiest of properties to see people still clinging to hope, all of whom have either died, or have been lingering with this horrible disease looking up at their crucifix.
When Jim interrupts this seemingly peaceful scene, he gets much more than he bargained for even considering he can barely walk under his own power. He then has to run for his life, make sense of this scenario, and battle a horrible foe. The prologue to “28 Days Later” puts to test that classic adage that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. The laboratory within this compound is testing animals to study the emotion of rage and have managed to manifest it in to a physical form that can help them to better understand it and possibly control it. Their good intentions is met with someone else’s as a bunch of animal activists try desperately to free a slew of primates only to unleash rage, the blood disease that can stain someone’s blood stream in under thirty seconds making good on its promise of rage. Victims vomit blood, garner red eyes, and lose absolute control of their tempers and emotions making way for a vicious new apocalypse that is seemingly unstoppable. There’s never an indication as to why Selena and Mark try to save Jim and help him get away from the infected when all along they could have used his attack as a spring board for more stealth. As we see later on they’re short on supplies and completely lacking in any real sustenance of shelter, but they save Jim nonetheless with the purifying fires of their cocktail bombs that make way for a massive explosion that clears out some of the ragers for a few blocks.
Boyle constantly parades characters in and out of his and Alex Garland’s narrative allowing for a more realistic approach toward the survival of the species and providing a deeper sense of dread where anything is possible during this outbreak of this massive blood born disease. While Boyle was restricted from shooting in massive locales for a long period of time thanks to a limited budget and lack of real space, he instead relies on our imaginations by giving Mark and Selena podiums upon which to stage their own memories and create a larger picture of the end of the world. As we suspect, the downfall of their society is immediate and awfully abrupt and the only thing people can think of doing in this wave of violence is run for their lives, and not even that is a reasonable solution when you consider it’s almost impossible to pick out which person in a crowd of fleeing citizens are infected and which are just anxiously looking for an escape. Noah Huntley’s character is rather fantastic considering the short screen time he’s given.
He’s resourceful, he’s fast, he’s witty, he’s strong, and he keeps Selena in check more times than she can count. And he dies a horrible death at her hands when he’s cut in the middle of an attack by the infected after Jim gets stupid and is lost in a sea of memories and thoughts of a better time. Jim is sadly a newcomer to the world of survival and all out barbaric battles for one’s life with an enemy that can turn you in to one of the population by a scratch or a mere strand of spit, and his lapse of judgment makes for the end of one really solid character who is hacked to pieces by Selena the minute her instinct kicks in and she is convinced his open wound has made an entrance for infected blood. Jim looks on in horror and can do nothing but blame himself and try to make heads or tails as their unwitting leader lays in a pool on the floor in literal pieces. “28 Days Later” is all about hope and the hope for something to come along and save this society. Mark relies on hope to keep him going, Selena has lost all hope in herself, and her world, Jim is trying to figure out if he has hope or should just lay down and die, and they soon find a ray of hope in a high rise where Frank and Hannah have left their Christmas lights on as sort of a guiding star in the darkness.