28 Days Later

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS: Science project gone wrong.  Ultra-contagious CrazySerum set loose by well-meaning animal lovers.

People go crazy and turn into crazypeople.  Everyone dies.  Cities of England empty.

WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?  For now, just try to survive.  That’s bleedin’ hard enough, innit?

THE MILITARY, SUCH AS IT IS, HAS A PLAN, SUCH AS IT IS: Lure people to their military base and forcibly impregnate any females who wander by.  Who knows?  In a few weeks maybe all the crazypeople will keel over from starvation.  Good plan, huh?  Huh?  Hey, where are you going?

WHERE DO WE LEAVE THINGS?  We learn, in time, that the crisis is passing, that the crazypeople, if not starving to death, are at least getting weaker and less scary, and that England is, seemingly, the only affected country.  Ah well.

NOTES: I love, love, love the first 75 minutes or so of this movie.  It’s deeply upsetting, haunting, nerve-shredding entertainment.  The creatures are wicked scary and unpredictable and the movie bristles with unexpected moments of beauty and poetry.  I love everything up to the point in Act III where the Army Guy In Charge mentions in passing that he intends to toss the women to the army guys.  What had, up until that point, been a really, really smart movie about resourceful people doing their best to survive in a really, really fucked-up world then becomes a movie about how the Military Is Bad.  Which it is, don’t get me wrong.  But for instance, we’ve got the female lead, who has proven herself to be an astonishingly effective badass with a machete, and in Act III she’s reduced to Protecting The Innocent Girl, Wearing a Party Dress (!), and Being Rescued By The Male Protagonist Who Learns To Kill And Thus Proves His Manhood (sigh).

I’m also not sure about the decision to shoot this on video.  I think it’s supposed to add “realism” to the event, and it certainly helps with the discomfort level, but for me it just keeps taking me out of the story because it doesn’t look like a movie, even though it is, obviously, a movie.  It feels self-conscious.
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29 Responses to “28 Days Later”
  1. greyaenigma says:

    I had a whole bit written about this, but then realized it basically boils down with “me too”, especially regarding the changes in the third act.

  2. ayrn says:

    I’d love to go into zombies in Freud’s death instinct, but I’m fuzzy on Freud so I’ll leave it as “Zombies, Ew.”
    I also love the notion of zombies that can run, especially faster and for longer than you can. Also loved Christopher Eccleston as Bad Army Guy, but that’s just because he was Doctor Who later.

    You always have such interesting write-ups for things. Always a good read.

  3. eronanke says:

    I have to say that I feel, being locked up with 10+ Army men in a castle with NO chance of rescue, and no weapon on me, I probably would have taken the pill-route as well.

    At any rate, why is the Military is Bad statement in this movie any different than Apocalypse Now? Both deal with a leader making ‘logical’ (AKA crazy) decisions in a ‘world gone mad’.

    Maybe I’m making a leap.

    • Todd says:

      At any rate, why is the Military is Bad statement in this movie any different than Apocalypse Now?

      I would say that Apocalyspse Now, being a “war movie” and all, gets cut more slack for making a statement about the military. But I would also say that reducing Apocalypse Now to a blanket statement as simple as that is doing the movie a great disservice. 28 Days Later, it seemed, had a lot more going for it, great characters acting intelligently, and then it feels like the filmmakers ran out of steam on the script and said “What the hell, let’s have the old ‘authoritarian asshole’ beat, people will go for that.” There was nothing building up to that idea, it just falls out of the sky and then the whole rest of the movie is built on it.

      • eronanke says:

        See, I knew you’d trash me on that. 🙂
        Anyway, I feel that, logistically, the third act makes sense. Parts of the military would survive, because that is what they are trained to do. They are, also, as a group, repressed. They await orders and will follow them, (blindly or not). If they are well-ordered, they will use the benefits given them, (guns and solidarity) to isolate and find a defensible territory, (like a castle).
        The possibility that, indeed, there will only two females available for the future will guide their decisions.

        I understand that, and I don’t think it’s too big a logical leap. There’s always that ONE guy who makes crazy/amoral decisions, which, to him, are completely logical. And there are always people willing to follow ‘that guy’ until the hero comes along.

        And on a final note, if they did not include a group of ‘organized’ survivors, like the military, I think the movie would suffer, adding a layer of implausibility. And I definately don’t think that the ‘rest of the movie’ is built on it. There needed to be a final confrontation with the zombies, and the military’s involvement showed that traditional/organized force will not suffice in this new/fucked-up world they now live in. And then, of course, there is the post script of their new life in the cabin which, also, serves as a nice conclusion to the possibility of living and thriving in this new world.

        • I actually had a similar conversation with myself about this movie when the entry on post-apocalyptic scenarios was first posted. I’ve always been as disappointed as by the third act of the film, but upon reflection I realize that the third act is not only logical but perhaps more interesting on an intellectual level. A case could be made that the third act is a commentary on the ways in which pre-apocalyptic roles will manifest themselves even in a post-apocalyptic scenario. That is to say, in the military compound the military created a society that was comprehensible in pre-apocalyptic societal terms, and by reasserting those roles (particularly in terms of patriarchy) allowed no room for the roles the protagonists created outside the compound. The question I think the film raises is, “Is it fair to blame the protagonists for falling back into preapocalyptic gender and power roles?” And I think since I don’t really equivocate on this (I think it’s entirely fair to blame them) I am incredibly disappointed.

          Anyway, I can’t shake the let-down feeling but if I think about it analytically it’s a lot more interesting than I realized.

          • Todd says:

            Absolutely the women in a post-apocalyptic society would be expected to bear children. But just as absolutely they should also be treated with respect and equality or else you’re just starting the same fucked-up society again.

            It just reminds me of one of the Native American quotes of a few hundred years ago: “Why did you feel you had to steal something we would have gladly given you for free?”

            • Right, I’m not challenging that. I think I was unclear. I was playing with the idea that falling back on a damsel-in-distress narrative wasn’t lazy writing but the suggestion that in this mockup of pre-apocalyptic society the characters fell back into pre-apocalyptic (read: patriarchal) gender roles.

          • eronanke says:

            I usually only critique a film when I cannot empathize with any character or understand their courses of action. I can understand bad-guys, psychos, and even pedophiles, (thanks to Law and Order: SVU), but sometimes I can’t understand the choices made by even the nicest protagonists. Outlandish situations seem so much more plausible when realistic human reactions are displayed.

  4. edo_fanatic says:

    This sounds weird…but I had no idea the lead male character was Cilian Murphy until now. Great zombie film.

  5. ghostgecko says:

    I seriously disliked this movie, for some of the same reasons you stated.
    The halfassedness of the video verite – sorry, if you’re pretending something is more “real” because it’s shot on video, you also have to explain why the main character is being followed around by a dude with a video camera.
    Also, every seems to think the zippity-zombie phenomena was entirely a creation of this movie, in which case they need to watch more zombie films.
    The plot seems to be ripped off in bits and pieces from the various Living Dead movies, esp. Dawn and Day.
    Also – I kind of agreed with the forcible impregnation idea. Of course, as you point out, it’s later revealed that only England is affected, but if the army guys honestly believed there was only a small group of humans left to continue the species, sorry ladies – you’re going to have to give up your badass stuff and become a broodmare. That’s not politically correct, but having the entire species killed off by zombies is not a normal situation. Now granted, the army guys went about it in entirely the wrong way, but what the she really expect? She and the girl would eventually have to start reproducing, or why bother doing anything, since the species will die with you? Sure, it sucks for them, but it sucked a lot worse for the people who got killed.
    I fully expect to be garrotted for this opinion, but there you go.

    • Todd says:

      Eronanke! The garrot!

    • I don’t necessarily think the women would be right to outright refuse to have children ever, but I don’t think a society rebuilt on forcible impregnation is a society worth rebuilding.

      • ghostgecko says:

        My only point being that without impregnation, forcible or otherwise, there won’t be any society at all. Like I said, the army guys were going about it the totally wrong way. But then, they probably felt the situation was desperate and they were kind of gross. Sometimes you have to do personally unpleasant things for the greater good. Obviously, no young woman wants to spend her entire life as a womb on legs (except maybe that one I saw on Discovery channel who has 17 kids) but here, her choice was taken away.

        • Todd says:

          I’m not saying that none of that would happen, I’m saying that dramatically, the movie was a lot smarter beforehand and didn’t prepare the audience for the sudden dumbness. It’s not like the whole movie up to that point was about how the woman was waiting for some guy to rescue her or that the whole discussion during the first two acts was about how the military has a great outlook on things. The decision “I promised them women” is just dropped out of nowhere and everyone gets stupid suddenly.

          • ghostgecko says:

            It probably would have been a better movie if it was just a random group of guys and not army guys, or if they’d stuck with the ending where the guy dies and it was totally downbeat instead of the ending where they’re all of a sudden hobbits in the Shire and the planes come to rescue them. I dunno. I don’t really like the movie enough to think hard about it.

            • Todd says:

              The thing about the ending that bugs me is that they just spent forty minutes telling us that the military does not have the solution to the problem and then, when it comes down to it, well, okay they do.

  6. On a semi-related note, is everyone aware of the forthcoming 28 Weeks Later?

    • Todd says:

      Every time I go out to pitch a horror movie.

      • ghostgecko says:

        “And six months later the Americans arrive to reboot it back up again. But, of course, something goes wrong… “

        Hahahahah, gee, where could they have possibly gotten the whacked-out cuckoo idea that Americans could go into a fucked up country and fuck it up even further? Those nutty scriptwriters and their imaginative notions.

  7. serizawa3000 says:

    Funnily enough (and perhaps not surprisingly) I can concur with you, especially about the bits of beauty and poetry (those shots of the open countryside, which to me seem unprecedented in a horror movie, except for maybe the original Wicker Man… well, usually most of the scenery in a horror movie these days is kind of on the stark and gritty side, and no exception here). I think my main quibble (as opposed to a couple lesser quibbles which I’ll try to get to) with the film was that it wanted to be philosophical as well, but kind of missed the target.

    28 Days Later strikes me as kind of divisive in how people reacted to it. Either it was loved or hated, with little in-between. And it seemed to me that most of the people who had a beef with it went on about how derivative it was (Hey, the army guys have a “Bub” chained up in the yard). As for me, I don’t think of it as a zombie movie (because I didn’t think of the Infected as zombies), but more in keeping with the tradition of British disaster films (Martians, Midwich, Triffids), where someone wakes up in a hospital bed and soon realizes something is wrong.

    My minor quibble is the use of the word Infected. My biology is kinda rusty, but infections are caused by bacteria, right? As opposed to viruses?

    • Todd says:

      When I first saw the movie, I was struck by how much it lifted from all the Romero movies. In fact, you could say that Act I of 28 is Night of the Living Dead, with its black/white protagonist pairing, Act II is Dawn with its comments on consumerist society (which it wears much more lightly than the original) and Act III is Day with its heavy-handed critique of militarism.

      If you want to see an utterly mind-blowing British end-of-the-world movie, check out The War Game. It’s a 60-minute fake documentary from the 60s about a post-nuclear-war England. It’s utterly convincing, twenty years ahead of its time and completely horrifying.

      My biology is kinda rusty, but infections are caused by bacteria, right? As opposed to viruses?

      What am I, an immunologist?

    • gretchdragon says:

      Infections can be caused by any microorganism. To whit:
      “The state or condition in which the body (or part of the body) is invaded by an infectious agent (eg, a bacterium, fungus or virus), which multiplies and produces an injurious effect (active infection).”

      So viruses definitely count.

      The quibble I had with the virus is that I’m not aware of any virus that can act *that* fast. When the crow dropped blood into the father’s eye it took all of what, 30 seconds before dad was ‘turned’? I don’t think the human heart can turn over the body’s entire reservoir of blood in the space of 30 seconds…and for a virus to take over like that it would have be replicating at an absolutely insane rate. If it was replicating *that fast* then the incidence of mutations in the virus that would alter the way it functions would increase as well, and it ought to mutate itself into something else in a matter of hours. Think Andromeda Strain compressed into seconds instead of days.

      There’s no known organism on the planet that infects and presents itself so quickly…the Spanish influenza, Ebola, Rift Valley Fever….these all take days after initial exposure before symptoms develop with the most rapid running about 24 to 48 hours. Once they develop, however, death follows rapidly and typically occurs in a matter of days. Given how far gone the zombies are at the end of the movie it seems pretty clear that the brain is affected in such a way that the zombies are no longer feeding themselves or drinking…and the human body can only survive 3 to 4 days without water barring any existing infection. So it strikes me as highly unlikely that such an extreme virus could result in zombies living beyond a week at the outermost.

      Of course, we ARE talking about a ‘zombie’ movie….. 🙂

  8. yetra says:

    It is totally killing me, but I am very certain that I saw another film sometime after 28 Days Later, I think European (french?) that had to do with some horrible end of the world type thing, and water is seriously tainted, so finding clean water is amazingly important, and people are wandering around the countryside trying to survive and stealing from each other and panicking and coming together and being even more deceptive but I think there was hope? And I cannot for the life of me remember what it was called. But I think you would like it.

  9. If you are disappointed by the third act, wait until you see 28 Weeks Later…uh yah yuh…

    Any chance of you doing a review of Robert Altman’s The Player, just to help us all understand 😉