Four weeks after a single infected lab chimpanzee causes a mysterious, incurable virus to spread throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary against savageness.
Amelia: There are three movies that always leave me a mostly emotional mess after viewing them: Beauty & the Beast, The Crow, and 28 Days Later. A British zombie movie with a melancholy sweetness to it. Who would have thought that? 28 Days Later is a movie that you can see only once in your entire life but you’ll never stop thinking about it after you do.
Billy: Let me talk about how much I love this movie. The soundtrack would be almost certainly be one of the CDs I took with me to a desert island and I have re-watched this disc countless times.
28 Days Later was 2002. The very beginning of a zombie revolution that wouldn’t let up for a solid decade. Danny Boyle, a director I had not yet become familiar with, created a movie that spoke centrally about themes those movies have never explored. Although the creators have famously denied this as a zombie movie, that’s just an excuse to justify ignoring a number of zombie rules. It cares so much more about its human characters and their journeys than the apocalypse around them.
Amelia: I love the subversion of tropes in this movie. It takes everything we know about zombie movies and flips it. Selena and Hannah are the ruthless ones, not Jim and Frank. Selena wields her machete with an unyielding viciousness. It doesn’t matter if she knows you. It doesn’t matter if she loves you. If you’re infected, she’ll cut you down before you’re even fully gone. Hannah shows she’s willing to do what it takes to survive at the end of the movie when she deals with Major West. Her decision is an impulse, a knee-jerk reaction to what’s happening around her and it’s hideously cruel (even though West deserves it). She could have screamed and ran or starting crying or watched with shock, but she didn’t. She dealt with the bastard.
Then there’s the zombie siege at the end of the movie. Every zombie movie needs a moment of siege: the protagonists trapped somewhere with little hope of escape. 28 Days Later has a siege, but it’s offensive, not defensive. Our protagonists are trapped in a house with the enemy, but it’s not zombies. When Jim returns to the Manor to help Selena and Hannah against the batshit crazy army brigade that’s holding them hostage, he’s the big baddie that’s lurking around! He releases a zombie into the house and works in tandem with it. This small platoon of soldiers were going to hold Selena and Hannah as sex slaves and as they fall one by one in Jim’s righteous campaign of terror, a cathartic calm settles over you. It’s beautiful.
Billy: 28 Days Later was filmed on digital cameras as a way of giving the film a CCTV feel. Although it’s a bit of a disappointment that this occurred only a few years before Blu-Ray made us want to capture every detail of the film, the low-res technique worked. It captures some amazing moments. Shots like the reflection of Mark’s face in the night sky that makes it look like God is watching over them always stood out to me and makes me admire the artistry of this film. Organic to the script are several severely disturbing images as well. The priest in the church running forward to attack Jim is such a subversion of expectations. The ideas of safe spaces and people are just completely thrown out the window.
Amelia: My favourite part of this movie is how unabashedly and unapologetically British it is. Compare it to any American zombie movie. Characters are polite and awkward and completely unsure of themselves. Before Jim knows what’s happening, an infected priest attacks him. When Jim knocks him down to protect himself, he apologizes. Action is proportional to their surroundings with molotov cocktails and baseball bats instead of rifles and Uzis. The landscapes shown aren’t covered in gore and death and massive destruction, they picnic in a lovely, serene, green field with galloping horses running free at one point. And that picnic comes after them politely looting a grocery store. Sure, Jim (who doesn’t have a single muscle to speak of) goes all Rambo at the end, but only when driven to his limit. Even British men have their breaking points after all.
Most British of all, the amount of screen time actually given to the zombies probably amounts to less than fifteen minutes for the total two hour runtime. Zombie movies are usually only about the horror of helplessness, the paranoia of a spreading disease, and corpses coming at you in a wave of rotting flesh. Not many think to look at the human condition. And those that do, don’t do it well. 28 Days Later gives us Jim. And Jim is a fucking perfect human being. Think differently? Fight me! Selena is a fucking perfect human being to. And their kiss at the end? When Jim is covered in blood and Selena has a machete raised over her head? That’s romance. Think differently? Fight me!
Billy: Jim goes from being a boy to a man in this film. He has three father figures. Two fail him, the third… oh Frank. I get so sad every time Frank turns because he’s such a positive, jovial influence. His scenes, even with his many character flaws, are a happy time in Jim’s life. But it’s a necessary step to get Jim where he needs to be. Selena also has an arc. Seriously, yeah. The female role was given a story! At the beginning of the film we see her heartlessly attack Mark when he gets infected. When she sees Jim and suspects he’s infected, she hesitates. Now, okay, this isn’t the most nuanced or subtle part of the film, but it’s better than a lot of horror treats women in that regard. This is a fantastic zombie movie because it is so unconcerned with the themes that a zombie film regularly addresses.
Amelia: Nine infected drops of blood out of ten
This movie is damn near perfect. I wish they hadn’t gone with the purposefully ugly digital look (that makes it hideous on blu-ray), but that’s my only complaint. Visually stunning choices in angles and close-ups, an in-depth look at the human condition, and characters that produce some truly emotionally moving moments make 28 Days Later a movie that’s like a virus. The symptoms might disappear, but it’s with you forever.
Billy: Eight and a half infected drops of blood out of ten
This is the worst episode of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. The Ninth Doctor behaves completely out of character, treats his new companion Jim horribly, and we don’t even get one Dalek! Getting back to being serious about it, I do love this film. It’s a great movie to put on and re-watch, and holds up years later, even after we’ve been burnt out from the zombie craze.