28 Days Later

When animal activists break into an animal research laboratory and release a monkey infected with a "rage" virus, they set into motion a series of apocalyptic events captured with horrifying intensity by director Danny Boyle in "28 Days Later." Shot on digital video to give the events a sense of urgency, "28 Days Later" is a tidy little horror thriller that pits a small group of survivors against an ever growing horde of psychotic zombies.


The premise isn?t new, but writer Alex Garfield (whose novel "The Beach" was turned into a movie by Boyle) reinvents the genre with smart, soulful characters, and a nasty twist of fate that forces us to decide who the real monsters are, the infected, walking dead, or a group of soldiers whose offer of sanctuary comes with an unexpected price tag.

Anyone who has seen "The Stand," "The Omega Men" and George A. Romero?s "Night of the Living Dead" trilogy will understand the confusion, isolation and eventual fear facing Jim (Cillian Murphy), a bike courier who awakens from a coma in an empty London hospital 28 days after a plague has decimated most of the world?s population. As Jim walks the desolate streets, he believes he?s alone, but after night falls and he takes refuge in a church, he quickly learns things that go bump in the night can kill you.

Jim is saved from being infected, or even worse, eaten by the zombies, by two other survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris), and Mark (Noah Huntley), and brought up to speed on the situation. After tagging up with two more survivors, a father (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns), the group receive a military radio signal that advises them to make their way to Manchester and supposedly safe haven.

That means crossing a hostile countryside inhabited by more living dead than in Congress. Garfield litters the script with numerous shock moments, perfectly executed and captured by Boyle, who enjoys scaring the crap out of us. Using digital video allows him to shade every scene in a you-are-there perspective that makes what we are seeing more real than fantasy. The scenes of a seemingly abandoned London streets recall such great films as "The World, The Flesh and The Devil," and more recently, Tom Cruise?s Time Square dream sequence in "Vanilla Sky."

The young, fresh cast also go a long way into helping us buy into the nightmare, with Murphy undergoing the biggest transition from a moderately mild man to a full-blown warrior. Harris literally kicks butt as a woman who realizes that their future isn?t as important as just surviving one day to the next. Veterans Gleeson (Gangs of New York) and Christopher Eccleston (who starred in Boyle?s 1994 slice of film noir "Shallow Grave") as an Army Major whose true intentions are extremely questionable, bookend an excellent troupe of players.

What I appreciated most about "28 Days Later" were Boyle and Garfield?s desire to make it something more than just a run of the mill horror film. Their characters are more than paper-thin, edible treats for the zombies, they become flesh and blood people that we care about. Garfield takes time out from the film?s dizzying pace to let us get up close and personal with the survivors, to learn and understand their fears and hopes. This makes their demise even more shocking, leaving us with a sense of loss.

Technically, "28 Days Later" works on its own level. Boyle wants us to see the world as ugly and uncertain. This is the look and feel that the "Blair Witch Project" aimed for and missed.

28 DAYS LATER

Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Noah Huntley. Directed by Danny Boyle. Rated R. 108 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7.00



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