July 15th, 2003
Curious as it may seem, some people, when in the mood for an “exciting movie,” are more interested in those that involve shotguns instead of spelling bees. Here’s a movie review for you for that crowd.
But first, an apology to M. My friend M. dislikes “scary movies,” and will flat out refuse to see films like The Ring or Hannibal. But I somehow convinced her to accompany me to a showing of 28 Days Later. I did this by employing my preternatural ability to Not Know What The Hell I Am Talking About. “Oh no, it’s not a scary movie,” I reassured her, despite almost complete ignorance about the film’s subject matter. “I think it’s, like, an old fashion zombie flick, more of a shoot-em-up action movie than anything else. You’ll like it.”
Ah, no. 28 Days Later is, in fact, a Scary Movie, and a fairly good one at that. That’s because it takes its cues not from Day Of The Dead (as I had assumed), but from Steven King’s The Stand. As with King’s novel, the story begins just as civilization ends, as a super virus rips through society leaving only a few survivors in its wake. Well, actually that’s not true — unlike The Stand‘s Superflu, the pathogen in 28 leaves plenty of survivors: the handful of those who never contracted the disease, and thousands of the afflicted who have been turned into mindless rageaholics (see “zombies,” above). The former group tries to live through onslaughts on the latter and, well, there’s your movie.
Plucky bands of humans beset by relentless hordes monsters, you say? Why isn’t this a shoot-em-up action movie? Well, for one thing, it is set in London where stricter gun control laws have left people at the mercy of roving bands of savage automatons, just as the NRA has always predicted. Second, these guys are, like, the Marion Jones of zombies. No more fumbling around with the car keys while the zombies slowly lurch towards you — here it’s flight or fight — and “fight” ain’t lookin’ so good.
But what really prevents 28 Days Laterfrom becoming Quake: The Movie is that, like The Stand, it doesn’t assume that humans would become a unified front against a post-apocalypse menace. As in our current, pre-apocalyptic world (assuming your reading this before the upcoming North Korea debacle), the characters in 28 are motivated by different things — survival, greed, lust, fear — and not all of these motives are harmonized. Those who band together are not simply trying to get to the helipad or infiltrate the lab to find an antidote, they are struggling to come out on top in this Brave New world, and that takes them into conflict with their companions as often as it does the Infected.
28 Days Later is one of the better horror / psychological thrillers I’ve seen in the last few years — certainly better than the aforementioned Ring. My only big complaint is the lousy film quality. Director Danny Boyle said he chose digital video to give the film a gritty feel — and it does, admittedly. But a friend of mine, who saw 28 before me, summed it up best when he said, simply, “Whenever I see a movie in the theater that was shot on digital video, I feel ripped off.” Nine bucks to see a movie that looks crummier than an episode of Everybody Love Raymond is kind of a drag, even if the film turns out to be unexpectedly enjoyable. In other words, 28 ain’t going to lose much in the transition to DVD, so maybe you’ll just want to wait and rent it. But if you do, here’s a tip: don’t watch it with anyone with a stated aversion to “scary movies,” or you’ll be in trouble afterwards.