Thursday 16 August 2012

28 Days Later - review

2002 (UK)

Contains spoilers.

Let's get 2 things out of the way straight away. The first is easy; the picture quality for a Blu-Ray presentation is as bad as other reviewers have noted. Danny Boyle shot all of the film with a DV camera at a resolution of 720x576 and for this release all they did was scale it up to 1080p; so it's full of noise, pixilation and looks almost like a tape! The DTS HD master audio is tremendous though. With this out the way I'll concentrate on the movie itself and the second issue.

Is this a zombie movie? On the one hand there's been a UK and possibly global apocalyptic meltdown caused through the rapid widespread transference of a blood infection that turns people into savage, single-minded killing machines hell bent on eating the non-infected. On the other hand the infected aren't killed, coming back in a zombie state. The infected are still very much alive, they can be knocked out, they can starve; to stop them they have to actually be killed.

Contrast this with say The Walking Dead where whilst everyone is infected (sorry spoiler) death is necessary for someone to actually transform into a zombie and only destroying the infected's brain actually stops them. It comes down to a virus causing people into monsters on infection, or monsters on infection but after death. The outcome is to all intents and purposes the same; zombies/infected with a hunger for flesh, people getting chased and eaten and doing all they can to survive. I can see both sides of the argument and feel it's down to semantics and how strict one wants to be. Personally I'd call it a film in the zombie genre but I'd counter that the monsters aren't zombies per-se but infected very-much-alive humans.  Anyhow, to the 28 Days Later directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland...

For me it's a film of two halves. The first half is a highly stylised traditional zombie survival story following Jim's (Cillian Murphy) regaining of consciousness in a secure hospital room 28 days after an apocalyptic virus has been unleashed and wrought devastation on the world. Fleeing the hospital Boyle perfectly portrays the solitude, despair and mental terror of realising  you're alone in a London gone very very wrong and there's some real cinemagraphic eye candy. Stumbling into the zom... I mean infected Jim soon joins other survivors Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), and later teenager Hannah (Megan Burns) and her father Frank (Brendan Gleeson) who happen to have, but are unable to act on alone, the plot point necessary to get the group to the second half of the film up the M55.

The second half moves the focus from survival against the infected to survival against humans. With what I suspect to be some slightly anti-military and establishment sentiments the companions, or those who are left, on reaching the M55 outpost find themselves not in the hands of salvation but under the protection of desperate, crude, unfeeling misogynists looking to get laid at any cost.  Lead by Christopher Eccleston as Major Henry West these highly trained and regimented band of professional soldiers soon reveal their true intents en masse and Jim finds himself separated from the group, running for his life and once safe ready to stage a dramatic rescue.

Jim, remember, previously a motorbike courier, now turns into a Rambo-esque merciless efficient killing machine able to successfully infiltrate a secure heavily armed military compound, outfox, out-manoeuvre, and ultimately take out all the soldiers and avoid and utilise the infected. All with his shirt off. He dispatches with manic glee in his eyes and moves with calmness and purpose as if Jekyll himself had risen in place of Hyde. Along with Jim's change I think Boyle's vision was to show how quickly all could be dehumanised when faced with unremitting horror and survival. This is seen in early scenes with Selena, Jim's half time encounter with a young boy, which one could argue acts as the catalyst for his later episode, and then later with the soldiers apparently easy scant regard for anything beyond their own gratification. Despite this theme I still found the speed and manner of Jims change a little over the top and not that believable.

From the extras you can see that Boyle and Garland struggled with this second half as they dabbled with an entirely different ending. The radical alternative ending saw none of these second half events unfold but kept the focus on the survivors and their attempts to find a cure. In a lot of ways I think I'd have preferred to have seen this vision of the film realised but Boyle apparently decided against it because he thought the idea of a total blood replacement as a cure wasn't credible.

There's a lot to recommend in the film. Great cinematography and music, some iconic scenes especially of London and some good action and splatter. There's also in my opinion a lot of problems with it once it's been critiqued and it's not helped by having a central character I never felt I could sympathise with or understand - 7/10.


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