It wasn’t until 2003 where I was truly introduced to Danny Boyle (I’d seen Shallow Grave in 1994, and admittedly greeted it with a very negative reaction. Hell I was eleven). I fondly recall going to the movies that spring and experience a teaser trailer to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s “28 Days Later.” The trailer, like the film, was frantic and horrifying and it piqued my interest to where it was all I thought about for months. In the summer of 2003, I managed to see “28 Days Later” finally. It happened to be an even more interesting experience than I ever imagined because I’d seen it a week before I had to have mandatory open heart surgery. To say that I was in a rollercoaster of emotions while watching “28 Days Later” is an understatement of the highest degree.
Director Danny Boyle’s dramatic thriller chronicles the hours of Aron Ralston and his battle with a lodged rock that sealed his fate and brought Aron down to Earth to come to grips with his own life and mortality. Much like “In to the Wild,” director Boyle takes what was something of an already interesting story and turns it in to much than an experience by altering it in to a surreal and somewhat spiritual look back at a young man whose life has been filled with excitement and adventure that he used as a form of coping with his inability to allow people to connect to him as he connected to nature and the wilderness. And much like Sean Penn accomplished with “In to the Wild,” he manages to take an accident and uses it as a form of expressing the ideas of fate, coincidence, and the afterlife and a person communing with and ultimately becoming one with the environment around him.
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.
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.
Danny Boyle puts the usual cynicism he injects in much of his films on hold, for a Spielbergian fairy tale of greed, wealth, and saints. Boyle’s tale of young boys whom fall upon an enormous amount of money is often times a very sweet and bright film very much in the vein of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” sans the violence. Boyle’s departure from darkness is a rather unique and well done story of greed and emptiness. In usual fashion, Boyle unusually goes from red eyed infected monsters, to two brothers coming of age with a million dollars. Well—it’s not really a million dollars, it’s more like thousands, but the fact that the two main stars describe it as millions adds to the charm.
Occasionally within the throes of watered down horror movies, a director comes along and decides to completely re-write the way horror is done. Danny Boyle is one of those people who will undoubtedly change horror movies. The movie constantly changes into pastels of moods within its canvas setting constantly going from light moods, ala the shopping scene, instantly cranking up the tension. He can leave us smiling with delight and in a split second leave us biting our nails and cringing in our seats. Boyles relies a lot on isolation to scare us, showing massively long scenes of lonely landscapes forcing us to feel even more terror and insecurity.
After animal rights terrorists invade a science lab, they begin breaking monkey’s free from their cages despite the frantic warnings from a scientist and are violently attacked by the apes that tear them apart and infect them. 28 days later, a man awakes from a coma in a hospital bed to discover a desolate and trashed hospital before him. He begins to inspect the marvel before him as the entire city of Britain is empty with no one in sight. He stumbles upon survivors that save him and tell him a virus has broken free on the general population and mankind as he knows it ceases to exist. The results of the virus are the infected. People that growl with beaming red eyes that kill anything in their path and infect others by tearing them apart or vomiting blood on them. It only takes twenty seconds to become one, so they waste no time disposing of their friends.
They stumble upon father and daughter survivors who decide to travel a military base where they supposedly have everything under control, but what they will find is not what they will expect. Boyle dares to break the mold of the horror genre by masterfully giving us a range of moods and colors, and terrifying sequences non-stop. Writers Boyle and Garland actually gives us characters we can care about and the director helps us by exploring the psychological effects this horror is having on them. We see Jim, the coma patient, have dreams that he is alone and deserted; we can see the desperation within the father’s eyes, and the torment in the daughter’s. These are actually characters that we feel bad for and within a split second Boyle takes them away from us. Characters in this movie come and go and Boyle snatches them without hesitation. Boyle often drops the characters off in small cramped dark places making the audience even more nervous and more anxious as we know terror is looming but we can do nothing about it.
The infected are horrifying as they stare with beaming red eyes and bloody faces and growl aloud; they can run and jump and dash and never stop. While “28 Days Later” is horror first and foremost it’s also more of a commentary on humanity and how we never really learn from our mistakes. We watch four people forced to live and exist in a world without order, a world with carnage, a world not very different from ours. This forces them act upon themselves and begs the questions: In a world without order, how do you achieve it? Who decides what life should be like, and is it all ultimately futile? This shows what humans do when there’s no structure or basis for order and basically take it upon themselves to do it with unsuccessful results. Danny Boyle is a genius director and might as well have re-invented the horror genre. Bravo Mr. Boyle, bravo.