28 Days Later (2002)

28Written by: Danny Boyle

Directed by: Alex Garland

Setting: England

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

When several well-meaning activists break into an experimental lab to liberate the chimpanzees, they unleash a mysterious, incurable virus that provokes mindless rage in its sufferers and quickly decimates the population.

Victims of the virus essentially become undead, but they are not the slow, shambling zombies of Night of the Living Dead and Shaun of the Dead. They are fleet-footed and driven by uncontrollable fury.

28 days

Twenty-eight days after the genesis of the epidemic, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma. In a scene that parallels The Walking Dead, he stumbles around the abandoned hospital and onto the streets of London, which are eerily deserted. He seeks sanctuary in a church, but that goes terribly wrong.

The first part of this movie, in which we watch Jim’s frantic struggle to make human contact, is full of dark, spare imagery and has minimal dialogue. This gives the film a dark, desolate feel which makes it even more creepy and compelling.

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Jim eventually finds several survivors, including Selena (Naomie Harris) and Frank (Brendan Gleeson). After learning that the military may be offering aid and protection to survivors in Manchester, they set off, determined to put themselves in the capable hands of the government. What could possibly go wrong with that plan … right?

The most interesting aspect of this type of film isn’t the zombies themselves, although — let’s face it — they are fabulously disgusting and kind of bad-ass. The truly fascinating part is watching what happens when society crumbles. How do people cope? What motivates them to keep struggling to stay alive? Do they manage — somehow — to create a life that is more meaningful than mere survival? 28 Days Later touches on these questions and makes you care about its characters.

28 Days Later is also different from a typical zombie film in that encounters with the undead actually comprise a relatively small percentage of the movie. The real threat comes from fellow survivors, in the form of soldiers who — while they may once have been honorable — have a twisted agenda in this post-apocalyptic world.

Viewed by some as political commentary and others as an entertaining horror flick, 28 Days Later offers a terrific cast, compelling themes, and a balance of intense action and storytelling. In true Lord of the Flies fashion, it gives us a glimpse at how tenuous civilization — and human morality — may actually be. But it also shows how an individual — through honoring the bonds of loyalty and affection — can rise above a desperate situation and create a life that matters.

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