“28 Days later is responsible for resurrecting the zombie genre in the 2000s”
Late one night, British animal rights activists break into a medical laboratory to release chimpanzees which are being experimented on. The medical staff warn the activists that the chimps are “infected” but the warnings go ignored. Immediately upon the cages being open, the chimps begin mercilessly attacking all humans in the room. Mere seconds after being bitten, the female activist turns into a bloodthirsty beast and begins killing everyone.
28 days after these events, we are transported to the scene of a man lying half-naked in a hospital bed. After coming to and leaving his hospital room, he realizes that the entire hospital, to his shock, is totally abandoned while looking ransacked. After finding that all phone lines are dead and smashing a Pepsi vending machine for some drinks, our protagonist leaves the hospital to find that all of London is abandoned. Our main character walks around the streets for a bit screaming out for help to anyone who may hear him, only to then come upon a church, which he enters. Upon entering said church, our main character bears witness to the horrible sight of a gigantic pile of bodies littering the whole interior. Our lead man asks if anyone is alive to the pile, only to have a number of these “dead bodies” pop up and stare at him. A priest comes out from the back of the church whom our man tries to greet, But quickly realizes the priest is nothing more than a mindless monster trying to kill him. Our hero then turns around and quickly makes his way out of the Church, being hunted not far behind by a horde.
Our lead protagonist is now running through the streets as quickly as he can, though it seems the infected are very soon going to catch up to him. Just before this can occur though, our protagonist is saved by two fellow survivors who set some infected ablaze with Molotov cocktails. Upon burning the infected and setting off explosive charges to cover their escape, these two strangers take our lead man to their hideout underground, inside of a London subway station store. These two survivors identify themselves as Selena and Mark, And tell our lead protagonist, who’s name is revealed to be Jim, that he’s been in a coma for at least 28 days. They notify him that in that short time span, the entire population of England has been ravaged by this virus turning everyone into mindless killing machines and that likely, the entire world has collapsed.
Upon hearing this news, Jim insists that the three of them leave the subway store and head to his parents home to check up on their status. Though they heavily try to talk him out of it, Selena and Mark ultimately go with Jim later that night to his parents home. Upon arrival to his parents location, Jim finds that his parents peacefully died, having committed suicide before the infected could take them. The three-person team make plans to hunker down in the building for the night, as it’s much too dangerous to travel back to the subway station in the cover of darkness with infected about. Late into the night, several infected attack the home and at the end of the said battle, Mark is bleeding. Selena does not hesitate, and immediately hacks Mark to death with a machete and then proceeds to explain to Jim infection occurs within seconds upon contact with contaminated blood. Selena then quite threateningly explains to Jim that if the same were to happen to him in the future, that she would kill him “within a heartbeat.” Selena and Jim then awaken the next day and begin traveling through the city together. Selena warns Jim however that there will be no sexual intimacy between the two of them as now the only goal is survival.
As our duo are calmly walking through the streets, they notice Christmas lights blinking in the window of a high-rise apartment. As the two are about halfway up the staircase to said apartment, Jim stops and falls to his knees stating that he is suffering from a horrible headache. Selena explains to him this is because he is “crashing” due to eating nothing but sugary food and sugary drinks for the past few days. Jim’s headache is quickly solved however when the sound of running infected forces Jim and Selena to continue their way up the staircase. A bit further up the stairs, they encounter a man totally decked out in riot control gear who directs them into his apartment and begins fighting back the infected just behind them. After the infected are dealt with, they are greeted by Hannah, the teenage daughter, and Frank, her father who was in the riot control gear. As everyone begins calming down and preparing to go to sleep for the night, Selena and Jim have a private debate as to whether or not to stay with this father and daughter.
Jim tells Selena that he would very much like to stay with the father and daughter, stating that they appear to be very good people who could use help. Selena warns Jim however that additional people will only slow them down, and that attempting to help others is a sure-fire way to get oneself killed. The next morning, Frank speaks with Jim and Selena, telling them they are all in serious trouble as water is becoming fatally scarce. Frank and Hannah have tons of water collection bins on the roof, but none of this has mattered as it has not rained in several weeks. Frank then has Selena and Jim listen to a pre-recorded radio broadcast looped from a group of soldiers stationed in Manchester, claiming to have the answer to infection.
Frank pleads with Selena and Jim that he needs them in order for his daughter and himself to safely get out of the city to the soldiers location. The four-person group finally come to an agreement to travel together, and everyone hops into Frank’s taxi cab for the trip. Along this car ride, the four of them begin to bond and grow strong friendships over time. A short time into the trip, the group travels into a car tunnel where they ultimately encounter a large vehicle pile-up which blocks them, followed by one of the tires on their cab blowing out. Everyone gets out of the vehicle to begin repairs, only to hear the screeching and screams of the infected coming from further down the tunnel, indicating they only have about a minute to finish repairs. Thankfully though, they finished just in time and sped off with the infected right behind them.
On the other side of this tunnel, they come across an abandoned grocery store and take a small amount of time to go inside and stock up on provisions. Later that evening, they all decided it would be best to spend the night sleeping outside in the middle of a wide-open field where the infected could not sneak up on them. As they are preparing for bed, Jim notices that Selena has a small stash of pills with her which she claims she uses to calm her anxiety and allow her to sleep, refusing to share any with Jim. It is around this time that Selena’s cold and steely exterior begins to soften a bit after spending so much time with Frank and Hannah along with Jim himself really starting to harden up due to all of his experiences combating the infected.
When they reach the military blockade, they are dismayed to find nothing but dead corpses of civilians, believing that the military had indeed fallen. As they are walking around the area, Frank makes the fatal mistake of standing directly underneath a corpse, staring up at it which causes a droplet of contaminated blood to fall from said corpse directly into Frank’s eye, infecting him. Hannah walks over and asks her father if he is alright, but Frank, realizing he is mere seconds away from turning, harshly screams at his daughter to stay away from him and that he loves her. However, before Frank is able to hurt any other member of the group, he is shot and killed by a soldier who was camouflaged and hiding within the nearby vegetation. Immediately after this event, Selena, Hannah, and Jim are taken by the soldiers in their cab to a nearby mansion which is under the control of Major Henry West.
Upon their safe arrival to the mansion, Selena and Jim begin holding hands romantically, while Hannah is still in a state of shock due to her father’s death. However, things soon take a turn for the worst when Jim, in a private conversation with Commander West, finds out that the Commander’s answer to defeating the infection is to simply wait out the infected until they starve to death, while guaranteeing a future to humanity by forcing all women to have forced sex with the men to create children. Absolutely disgusted by this plan, Jim attempts to flee the mansion with Selena and Hannah in the hopes of saving them from sexual slavery. Jim and a soldier by the name of Sergeant Farrell are both captured by the other soldiers however, who prevent the loss of their sexual servants. While Jim and Farrell spend the night chained up, Farrell states his hypothesis that the rest of the world has not been impacted by the infection whatsoever. Farrell claims that the infection, due to spreading so quickly, in no way shape or form could have escaped the British Isles due to the infected being unable to slip through the cracks and into another nation.
The next morning, Jim and Sergeant Farrell are awoken by two soldiers and are force marched out into the woods where they are to be executed. Further inside the mansion, a horrifying scene is taking place where Selena and Hannah are being trapped within a circle of soldiers, who are preparing to rape them. Selena begs with the soldiers to give her and Hannah a few moments alone to prepare for the occasion, which she is granted. Now alone, Selena gives Hannah a few of her pills in order to sedate the teenage girl and make the experience a bit less traumatic.
While the two soldiers are preparing to execute Sergeant Farrell, Jim uses the opportunity to run away. The two Soldiers give chase but are unable to find Jim, as Jim has hidden himself deep under a pile of already dead bodies, which the soldiers were planning to place his dead corpse on just a few moments before. While lying on the pile of corpses and looking up to the sky, Jim sees a plane fly by, realizing that the outside world is indeed still functioning. With Jim having escaped, nearly every soldier back at the mansion compound is dispatched to hunt him down, while Jim smartly brings them all back to the original military blockade. Little do the soldiers know however that Jim himself has headed back to the mansion, and has released an infected soldier who the other soldiers were keeping chained up as a pet. This infected soldier begins running around the mansion killing off a number of his former comrades, while Jim himself stealthily kills other soldiers. Selena, who is in a room with the last surviving uninfected soldier, is horrified when Jim bursts into the room while drenched in blood and gouges the eyes out of this soldier with his bare hands, leading Selena to believe that Jim himself is infected.
Selena raises her machete to slash Jim, however, she hesitates, prompting Jim to tell her “That was longer than a heartbeat” followed by the two passionately kissing. Shortly thereafter, Hannah walks into the room and our three protagonists make their way out of the mansion back to the cab hoping to escape. Unfortunately however, Commander West is waiting for them outside, infuriated by the death of nearly all of his men causing the commander to shoot Jim in the stomach. During this commotion, Hannah commandeers the taxicab, puts it into reverse, and knocks Commander West directly into the hands of an infected soldier, giving Selena and Jim the time they need to hop in the vehicle, for them all to escape.
The group drive directly to an abandoned hospital where Selena attempts to perform life-saving surgery on Jim. After another 28 days pass, Jim awakens in a bed all bandaged up inside of a cottage. Heading downstairs, Jim finds Selena working on some pieces of fabric with a sewing machine when Hannah walks into the room. The three of them rush outside with a gigantic piece of fabric which they unravel, revealing the words “Hello” as a plane flies directly over top of them. After this we cut to a scene of a street packed to the brim with the bodies of the infected seemingly dead from starvation. We cut back one final time to our three protagonists with Selena talking aloud to herself and the others asking “Do you think they saw us?”
I first watched this film as a small boy around eight years old having only ever seen zombie films which depicted slow, staggering corpses. This brand new introduction of sprinting zombies shook me to my absolute core. No longer could you use your brain to outmaneuver a hoard, if the infected caught wind of you, you were essentially dead on the spot. I mention this because 28 Days Later is truly unlike any zombie film which came before it. A film so influential that The Walking Dead began its legendary television series with a nod and a wink to the intro of this movie. I would highly advise anyone who dismisses this film due to being a horror movie that despite being horror, there is an excellent story here.
That incredible story is mainly due to Cillian Murphy and his portrayal of our lead protagonist Jim. From the moment he wakes up in an abandoned hospital to the final time he wakes up in the countryside Cottage, Murphy does an outstanding acting performance. We empathize with Jim so much throughout the film because he is in the exact same shoes that we are. Just like the viewer, Jim knows absolutely nothing about this world or the current infection at the start of the film. As Jim learns about what is going on, so do we, and because of this we see much of ourselves in Jim. We care about Jim and we genuinely want to see him survive these trials and tribulations which in turn makes for a film which grabs your attention and holds it until the conclusion.
Assisting Cillian Murphy and acting as his partner of sorts is Naomie Harris who does an equally incredible job of portraying Selena. When we first encounter Selena, she comes off as incredibly cold and harsh, sticking to a purely business attitude. The way she hacks her old partner in Mark to death with a machete Makes her come almost as dangerous as the infected themselves. However, the way the film does a masterful job of slowly peeling back the various layers to Selena’s character and finally presenting us with a caring and loving woman is incredible. Selena at the very end of the film is essentially an entirely different character from the Selena we are presented with at the beginning. It is extremely common in both horror and zombie films for all the main characters to be completely bland and (no pun intended) tasteless. One of 28 Days Later’s biggest strengths is the phenomenal job it does in making us care about these people, and that is in large part due to these two actors themselves.
Something else which makes 28 Days Later unique is that we don’t really encounter that many other human beings. Sure there’s Frank and Hannah along with the mansion of soldiers, but the city portion of the film is completely and totally abandoned. The sequel to this film, 28 Weeks Later, does the polar opposite. Honestly, after having watched the two, I find that 28 Days Later and it’s focus on only a handful of human beings make the film much more intimate and also helps to raise the tension. Unlike in 28 Weeks Later where there are hordes and hordes of normal people who could hypothetically help the protagonist, there is nobody to provide aid in 28 Days Later. It truly creates this feeling of complete and total isolation where it is only the empty world, our characters, and the infected. This conjures the feeling that there’s no hope for the world. Everything and everyone is dead and at this point, those left un-infected are having to scratch and claw for every single moment they spend alive. 28 Days Later is one of the darkest zombie/infected films and very much reminds me of the original Fallout series before it was taken over by Bethesda In terms of its bleakness.
On the topic of this film being unique, I would be making a grave mistake if I did not mention the way in which this movie was filmed and presented. Danny Boyle, the director of this film, went out of his way to film this entire movie using a Canon XL1 camera, feeling that it made the footage appear a lot more “real” than your typical Hollywood blockbuster appearance. Mr Boyle wanted 28 Days Later to appear much more like a documentary than a horror film. Considering that the Rage Virus in the 28 Days universe is based off of Ebola from our real world, I find this to be quite fitting. I think it is a testament to Mr. Boyle’s brilliance that even now, almost two decades after the film’s release, one of the things which has always stuck in my brain about the film, besides its excellent plot and characters, is that very way in which the movie appears. I have never seen another movie which looks like this one and I find that to be a very, very good thing. In the genre of horror, where even by the early 2000’s practically everything had already been done, you have to make yourself stand out and Mr Boyle did exactly that.
Touching upon originality for a final time, the crown jewel of this film is the infected themselves. While some very obscure movie out there may have done it first, 28 Days Later is generally considered the debut of the “Infected” or “running zombie.” Unlike zombies, which were always portrayed as these slow, shambling corpses, the infected here run down their victims at a breakneck pace. To counterbalance this though, the infected are nowhere near as invincible as your typical zombie. Whereas your Hollywood zombie can only be killed by disabling the brain, the infected are still technically alive and can die just the same as any other human being. This is why when the infected Frank is shot five or six times through the chest with a rifle, he dies. Switching from zombies to the infected made for such unique film compared to the gigantic pile of zombie films which were already in existence. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, all of the ways 28 Days Later broke away from the vanilla zombie formula is why it’s still remembered so fondly now, exactly two decades now at the time of the writing of this review.
To turn things a bit negative for just a small bit, let me briefly cover the few things which I found a bit bad about this film. First and foremost, you pick up after a while that all of the infected jump-scares follow the same formula to a degree. Our main characters are huddled in a group having a discussion, everything begins to get too quiet, and then the infected come storming through a window or door sometime even just down the road or hallway. This is by no means movie-ruining, but I found myself towards the end of the fim in the mansion picking up on when a jumpscare was about to occur five or even ten seconds beforehand.
While we’re back at the mansion, let me also speak about the soldiers and Commander West. While I more than understand as a man myself how difficult it can be to go a long length of time without any female interaction, I found the idea that in less then a single month nearly all of the professionally trained soldiers would transform into murderous killers and rapists unbelieveable. The entire mission of the soldiers, as stated by Commander West, is to re-populate England and greatly increase the human population vs that of the infected, yet Commander West orders his men to execute Jim and Sargent Farrell. If the soldiers are trying to rebuild and have as many hands on deck as possible, why would they execute fighting age men over a disagreement. It felt like Danny Boyle was trying to show that there is more to be feared in this world than just the infected, but Commander West and his men were pulled out of the oven a few minutes before they were done.
Megan Burns, who portrays Hannah, was also a quite weak part of the fim for me. Her performance just comes off as lacking emotion, especially considering what is going on in the film. At first, I thought this was purposeful as her character has spent the first month of the outbreak sheltered in her apartment with her father, but even after being brought out and exposed to the horror of the world, she remains kinda flat.
Finally, I want to give a quick mention to the amazing soundtrack and set locations. The opening scene of Jim wandering through the abandoned London is one of the greatest zombie movie scenes of all time, and cost the company behind this film a pretty penny. The soundtrack, especially the piece “In The House, In a Heartbeat” to the tension of this film and cranked it up to eleven. If you have never seen 28 Days Later, I highly recommend you do. Even if not a fan of the horror or zombie genre, there is a genuinely brilliant film here that almost everyone will enjoy, just be sure you’re not weak of heart!
Pros & Cons
- The soundtrack, especially the song “In The House In A Heartbeat” are phenomenal
- Location set pieces are incredible, especially the London Bridge scene
- Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris did solid jobs creating and portraying characters whom you genuinely care about and want to see survive the film
- The (at the time) original idea of the zombies/infected running makes for a thrilling blast
- The focus on a small group of characters helps make things intimate and aids the tension
- The experimental method in which this film was shot, making even 1080p or 4K copies appear like VHS footage, is both interesting and gives it a unique identity
- On occasion, infected attacks can be a bit too telegraphed
- Nearly all of the soldier characters come off as cartoonishly evil caricatures
- Megan Burns gives a rather bland performance as Hannah, made worse by performing alongside Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris
“With endless love, we left you sleeping. Now we’re sleeping with you. Don’t wake up. X”