Why It Works: 28 Days Later
Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.
Zombies, man. We love our zombies. This weekend marks the beginning of a 14 week long walkerthon on AMC with Fear The Walking Dead's first season leading straight into the first half of The Walking Dead's sixth. Zombies on film go back as far as 1932's WHITE ZOMBIE, but George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) was one of the first films to use the undead as a metaphor for the darker side of humanity. Since then, few movies have managed to use the creatures for more than fun and shock value... that is until Danny Boyle's 28 DAYS LATER came along and brought the genre back from the nearly dead. Yes, I know they're "infected" and not technically zombies, but the film still fits the mold of the genre, and also shut up. Terrifying, artistic, realist, and cerebral, 28 DAYS LATER is a rare occurrence of a horror film with more to say than most films of any genre. Here's why it works:
WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:
You don't have to do much to get your audience on the main character's side when he might be the only person alive. Jim wakes up in a hospital bed, finds the streets of London completely empty, and eventually runs across a church full of infected. When an infected priest tries to get at him, Jim fights back and immediately apologizes. This is at least shows us our hero is not a naturally violent or angry man. Once we see Jim's love for and connection to his recently deceased family, we know we're dealing with a good-hearted person lost in a destroyed world. Add to the mix the ruthless but caring Selena, the tender survivalist Frank (played by the always lovable Brendan Gleeson), and his daughter Hannah, forced to grow up too quickly, and we have a band of heroes struggling to walk the line between love and survival.
Selena: the OG Michonne.
WHY WE CARE:
28 DAYS LATER opens in a laboratory where the animals are forced to watch atrocities across multiple video screens. We then learn the intent is to infect them with rage in order to find a cure. This is the theme of our story and the first clue that there's more going on here than your average horror flick. From a strict narrative perspective, though, once we meet Jim and see the world 28 days later, we just want to know what the hell is going on. We see post-apocalyptic London through Jim's eyes, and even though we see how the outbreak begins, we still want to explore and understand the aftermath. From there, we follow Jim to his parents' house, follow the blinking lights to Frank and Hannah, and finally follow the radio broadcast to the military blockade near Manchester. Just as each thread closes, another opens.
"I promised them women."
WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:
Right up until we get to the blockade, 28 DAYS LATER is a thrilling, one of a kind horror film. Once the group meets up with the soldiers, it seems we're in the clear, but every "zombie" movie needs a final siege-on-the-house scene, right? Well, not exactly. Major West reveals that he and his men plan to rebuild society, which means keeping Selena and Hannah as sex slaves and executing Jim. Whoops. This is where the theme introduced at the beginning of the film takes hold. Humans infected with rage prove to not be nearly as dangerous or terrifying as humans who choose wickedness of their own free will. Escaping execution, Jim orchestrates his own siege on the mansion, effectively transforming himself into an infected to take down the soldiers. Our quiet bicycle courier becomes the lesser of two evils, experiencing true rage only when faced with the reality of the human race (also, the music is amazing in this scene). Finally, once Jim, Hannah, and Selena escape, we see the other theme of our story: family. When a plane flies overhead, and Selena asks Jim, "do you think they saw us this time?" we don't need an answer. The infected are starving out, and rescue will come in due course, but for now the three have found peace and happiness in each other.
One of the few times I didn't mind a Danny Boyle film not having Ewan McGregor as its lead. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE- that's definitely another.
WHY WE REMEMBER:
28 DAYS LATER starts out as an exciting monster movie and turns into a psychological thriller (it was disappointing when the writer/director combo's next, SUNSHINE, did the exact opposite). The horror genre is so rarely used to say anything of substance, but this film knocks it out of the park. Moreover, Danny Boyle took a risk by casting then unknown actors Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris as the two leads as well as using a low-quality video and audio presentation; the latter can definitely be off-putting, but it ultimately adds to the realism of the piece. Something else worth mentioning is the role of gender in the story. While they can certainly get things done, Jim and Frank are not the manliest of men, while Selena proves to be the fiercest in the group and Hannah the biggest risk taker. It's only when we encounter the soldiers- desperate men with a mob mentality- that men are portrayed as strong and threatening. Even then, Selena and Hannah show the greater strength by preparing themselves psychologically for what is about to come. 28 DAYS LATER seems like such a simple film, and yet every viewing uncovers new facets of what it has to say about humanity. The sequel, 28 WEEKS LATER, revisits some of the same themes on a grander, governmental scale, and we can only hope the long-rumored 28 MONTHS LATER eventually sees the light of day and takes things to the next level.
Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!
If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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