28 Days Later
directed by Danny Boyle
(20th Century Fox, 2003)

I had reasonably high hopes for this movie going in, even though I never really got a true feel for what the story was all about from the previews I had seen. I had heard good things about 28 Days Later, so I expected to enjoy a thrilling movie experience. What I discovered was a movie with a lot of problems.

There was potential here, and the first half of the movie seemed to be following the right track to some sort of dark and memorable destination, but then everything changed; I felt as if I were watching a completely different movie, and gradually my patience wore out to the point that I could no longer deny the fact that 28 Days Later really is, to some degree, a bad movie. The alternate endings and the plot issues they raised only reinforced my conviction that Danny Boyle was a great explorer who lost his map once he got into this cinematic jungle.

Basically, what you have here is a virus unwittingly released in England; the virus itself is "rage," the hows and wherefores of which are never really explained. One drop of infected blood in your system, and you almost immediately turn into a maniacal killer with red eyes and a penchant for spouting out liters of blood on anything and everything.

The protagonist Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in the hospital to find the place deserted; as he wanders outside, he finds London itself deserted. These scenes are rather effective, as the complete absence of musical accompaniment really reinforces the stark loneliness of Jim's environment. Before long, Jim meets up with a couple of fellow survivors, finds out all about the infection and its apocalyptic effects, and starts dealing with a brand new future. He and a lady named Selena meet up with a father and daughter, and the four of them eventually set off to find the "salvation" spoken of in an obscure radio broadcast. Here is where the movie takes a dive. The whole storyline involving a set of soldiers led by Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) -- who is a few clips short of a full ammo belt -- is a big mistake. Sure, you get most of the movie's bloodier moments in the second half of the film, but the whole thing has become rather ridiculous by the end.

A lot of little things annoyed me as the story played out. First, it took over half an hour for anyone to figure out that perhaps they should take a car rather than just walk everywhere. The entire population is either dead, infected or gone, so it's not as if finding a car and the keys to go in it is an impossible task. In addition, there really didn't seem to be nearly enough dead bodies and traffic jams in evidence in the middle of this once-thriving and now decimated metropolis; the bodies I did see looked as fake as they actually were. Even the heavy rains that come down later look incredibly fake. Then you have heavy-duty military rifles that sound like a child's cap gun when fired. One character, gun in hand, watches an enemy run directly toward him down a long hallway and then turns his head at the worst possible moment for no reason whatsoever. And speaking of guns, our heroes never even get their hands on any firearms; their entire arsenal is a big knife and a baseball bat.

I was also disappointed to see that the elaborate setup in which the nature of the infection is presented to the audience at the beginning is never addressed again. I wanted to know more about this virus; one of the alternate endings included on the DVD makes it pretty clear that the filmmakers really knew nothing about the virus either, and that explains why that part of the story is essentially dropped.

28 Days Later does come with a bundle of extra features, including a commentary, a number of deleted scenes, three alternate endings and a making-of featurette. The alternate endings really aren't that special, though; two of them differ from the actual ending in only one important regard, and the third one is just an idea expressed through some dialogue and a series of storyboards. As the filmmakers say on the commentary, they started thinking about the "radical alternate ending" late into production and ran up against a roadblock that highlights their lack of development of the entire infection concept (and implies that they were most likely not completely satisfied with the original and second endings).

Needless to say, I was really quite disappointed. To me, the whole concept of the film needed to be explored and developed more deeply. Some of the shots are very effective and somewhat surreal, but it seems to me that the filmmakers were depending on this radical sort of cinematography to patch over the problems with the dialogue and plot. No matter how impressive the scenery, it's hard not to notice all the potholes in the road.

by Daniel Jolley
8 October 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.