Zombies had been so dead for a very long time. Even the masters of the form had given them up long before and viewers knew we’d never get that heyday back. Well, Robert Rodriguez saw it coming but got talked out of it so Planet Terror was shelved, such a shame. Instead, the guy who made Trainspotting handed us one of the finest entries into the zombie genre and, along with Shaun of the Dead, reinvigorated cinematic zombies and made them gold. Well, not Oscar gold but at least a return to form where you could spend money on them at the flicks and have a good chance of getting a good time in return.
I don’t think the term zombie was ever used in this flick and that’s just one of its strengths. The writer, Alex Garland who brought us the ultimate Gen X travel guide The Beach, wrote this story as an original script. It looks at a scientific made virus spreading through the populace of Britain and turning everyone into crazed murders, much in the vein of zombies. However, these bastards can run really fast. The ferocity that they all attack is genuinely scary because suddenly these killers are true threats. They won’t just wear you down eventually, they’ll track you down and tear you apart in a frenzy. It was a smart choice because these aren’t the reanimated dead, they’re the infected living, and that’s the difference.
We open on Cillian Murphy in a star making turn as a bike messenger who wakes from a coma to find the world he knew is gone. As he stumbles from the hospital he eventually realises what things are like now and then he is saved by some other survivors in a daring escape. There’s a great scene where we see one of the survivors has a wound on his arm so his compatriot simply and quickly descends on him with the machete without a thought because that’s how you survive, you don’t hesitate. Garland peppers his tale with great dialogue and motivation which only make all the characters more real, and the audience more invested in the situations they find themselves in.
The first half of the movie is some of the best zombie apocalypse committed to film. The danger is real, the devastation is widespread, and when they get to the fortified apartment block to find the sad father and daughter living in squalor it’s sad and happy at the same time. Brendan Gleeson does an awesome job of making his father seem completely able to defend himself but also such a likeable guy. It’s perfect casting. The small group take to the road in search of an Army broadcast they had heard. They do a great bit of shopping where they stock up, but Gleeson’s still got time to take some of the finer scotch. It’s a short laugh and just what all the bleakness needs.
Then the moment happens. I won’t spoil it here, lest there be people who actually haven’t seen this movie yet, but it’s one of those moments that gets me every time. It’s sad and frustrating and, most importantly, so easily avoidable. Every time I watch the movie I hope this scene will play out differently but it never does. And it never will, but that won’t change what I want. This moment changes everything, it’s one of those moments where a writer is portraying what is real, not what they want. From here the movie becomes a different beast, the characters are in the army base and the ‘zombies’ are no longer the problem. As usual, man becomes the most dangerous animal on the screen.
I own the soundtrack to this flick because it’s amazing and quite haunting. It usually gets pretty good play when reading and certainly when writing anything with pure heart on the page. John Murray does some excellent work and you should check it out if you can.
Check out this flick is you want to see the rebirth of perhaps my favorite horror genre. It’s brutal and epic but it’s also smart enough to know that at its heart it needs good characters and a tight script, of which it delivers both. The DVD has plenty of extras of very high interest, as well.
Rating: I give 28 Days Later… 9 zombies falling down shopping cart riddled stairwells out of a possible 10.
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