Nowadays, the world loves zombie movies. But way back in 2002, zombies had long since become a gimmick reserved for low-budget horror movies – you just had to slap some make-up on an extra and have them shuffle about mumbling “brainssss…” and you’d done a day’s work. Enter Danny Boyle, a young director who’d already cut his teeth with little films like Trainspotting and The Beach. Boyle, working with Alex Garland, whose novel served as the basis for The Beach, reimagined the idea of a “zombie” into something different; by removing the notion of them being reanimated corpses, they became “infected”, humans who had fallen prey to the Rage virus, which stripped away their humanity and left only base, violent impulses.
Widely credited with reinvigorating the zombie genre, 28 Days Later quickly became a landmark horror film, and also brought a young Cillian Murphy to the attention of a global audience. However, two decades on from the film’s release, 28 Days Later holds up in a way that most horror films could only dream of, regardless of the film’s cultural impact.
28 Days Later‘s apocalyptic Britain is beautifully and tragically realized. Scenes shot on location in London are particularly arresting, with stories of exactly how the production managed to have the busy city streets abandoned long enough to shoot since passing into movie legend. 28 Days Later‘s lasting popularity goes beyond its horror roots and location shoot, though.
Boyle made the decision to shoot the film using digital cameras, which is primarily what enabled the use of such impressive locations. However, this also gives the film a grittier quality, which translates far better to its depiction of post-apocalyptic Britain. It also allowed Boyle to shoot the Infected in a different way, producing the unnerving staccato effect that demonstrates the speed and ferocity with which the Infected attack. This is perhaps the most notable way in which 28 Days Later reinvented the zombie genre, by having its Infected act in a way that zombies traditionally wouldn’t.
One 28 Days Later‘s biggest strengths is the deeper themes it explores. Building on the themes of George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy and other stories like John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, Boyle and Garland created a story in which mankind are their own primary antagonists. In numerous ways, 28 Days Later explores the fragility of humanity by drawing parallels between the survivors and the Infected, but also by presenting non-Infected humans as the film’s biggest danger.
28 Days Later also has a beautiful score, which is used to outstanding effect in numerous scenes. The most obvious of these is the climactic scene, in which Cillian Murphy’s Jim is attempting to rescue Selena (Naomie Harris) and Hannah (Megan Burns) from the soldiers after unleashing Infected upon them. There’s tension, confusion, and brutality, and it’s all set to composer John Murphy’s ‘In the House – In a Heartbeat’, a piece which has since become synonymous with the film.
28 Days Later is a film that check all the boxes. In terms of visuals and deeper themes, it’s able to meet (and in places, surpass) the quality of the films it draws inspiration from, but it’s also got an undeniable vein of charm that runs through it. There are a few performances from supporting actors that aren’t particularly enthralling, but its leads (Murphy, Harris, Gleeson, and Eccleston) all firmly deliver on the extraordinary potential of the film.
Ultimately, there’s a reason that 28 Days Later is so fondly remembered by fans of practically every genre. Even when it’s beautiful, it’s horrifying, and even when it’s horrifying, it’s beautiful.
Summary: A slow-burning exploration of post-apocalyptic society that reimagined and redefined the parameters of the zombie genre, 28 Days Later is a certified classic.
Highlights: The film’s desolate opening scenes shot on location in London are as haunting as they are visually arresting, using imagery that remains impactful and insightful even two decades on.