28 Days Later

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Megan Burns, Noah Huntley and Christopher Eccleston
20th Century Fox
RRP: £12.99
Certificate: 18
Available now

Animal rights activists release a chimp from a research laboratory, unaware it is infected with a virulent virus called Rage. When one of them is attacked, they are all quickly infected. 28 days later, Jim, a coma patient wakes up in hospital and wanders the empty streets, believing he is the only person left. He soon learns that there was an attempt to evacuate London, without success, leaving only dangerous zombie-like creatures with a disposition for mindless violence and feeding. Jim teams-up with a handful of other survivors, and they go in search of an army blockade which apparently has all the answers. But the army doesn't provide the sanctuary they expect...

This film, whilst seemingly original, borrows from several sources. Infected animals being released from a research establishment, sparking subsequent unsavoury events, has been done to death, most notably in Chimaera, by Stephen Gallagher. The hospital patient waking to find he has missed the catastrophe which started it all, is reminiscent of the original film version of Day of the Triffids. Wandering around empty streets like the last man alive, reminds me of The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, based on the horror book classic, I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson.

In fact, the idea of virally-infected people becoming mindless monsters and attacking a person who is not like them, comes directly from that book. A scientific explanation for the breakdown of society, and not zombies in the truest sense. This film, like I Am Legend, doesn't mention the Z-word once. Even the mansion house scene has a moment straight out of the Scooby-Doo cartoons, when a soldier's shadow is seen running along a far wall, closely pursued by the lumbering shadow of an Infected, making "Grrrghh!" noises.

The film has some nice moments, including a handful of maudlin one-liners. The scene where they drive the taxi through the dark tunnel under the river and get a puncture, is an exciting movie moment, although you have to question why they chose to change the wheel before emerging from the tunnel. Who would care if they damaged a wheel, especially if they were going to change it anyway? But this deviation from common sense is a genuine tension-builder.

There are few of these in 28 Days Later; the violent and gristly horror is there, but most of the shocks come from sudden sound and movement, a common practice in film-making today. Everybody jumps when surprised, but there is no way of gauging what frightens most people.

The Infected are nicely updated for the modern age. These zombies (in all but name) are as quick as normal humans, and chase their victims. The image of one engulfed in flame, chasing Jim, makes for vivid imagery. There's no glorification of death here; friends or family are quickly and brutally dispatched when infected, before the Rage virus can take effect. There are plenty of gruesome dead bodies to be seen, and the Infected, far from looking comical as in some previous films, thrash and vomit and bite in gristly fashion.

The first half of the film, set within the streets of London, is more enjoyable. The litter-strewn streets, set against locations such as the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace, Whitehall, Piccadilly Circus, and the London Eye, appear somehow haunting when empty. I suppose there's something more immediate about seeing these events take place on your doorstep. Even the activity in a church and on the stairs of a block of flats seem more exciting than soldiers and zombies running around in a mansion house.

This disaster movie plot, from the director of Shallow Grave, felt pretty tight. However, I had to wonder how a gentle and quiet man can suddenly turn into an Arnold Schwarzenegger action hero for ten minutes and then back again.

The packaging blurb cites 28 Days Later as being the best British horror movie in the last 30 years. I'm sure the producers of Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps would probably argue that one, but I will accept it's a well made movie which bridges the horror and mainstream genres with its realism.

Ty Power

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