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28 Days Later ****
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Jim:  Cillian Murphy
Selena:  Naomie Harris
Frank:  Brendan Gleeson
Directed by Danny Boyle

"I'm after the man that took my shirt."

Sergeant Farrell: Well, I think Bills got a point.  If you look at the whole life of the planet, we...you know, man, has only been around for a few blinks of the eye.  So if the infection wipes us all out, that is a return to normality.



Zombie movies are littered with excess.  Thats part of why we like them.  I don't know if anyone ever considered breaking the horror and intensity of the genre down to a personal level before Alex Garland (original novel of The Beach) wrote 28 Days Later and handed it over to director Danny Boyle to make it come alive. 

The startling ideas: 1) The zombies are not the undead, but rather are very much alive and infected by a virus transmitted through the infected's blood and saliva. 2)  The characters are as rich and as important to the story as the action. 3) The action starts in a medical testing facility where animal rights activists free lab monkeys infected with the virus (called the rage virus for effect).  4) After the mayhem and setup in the testing facility, the story quickly jumps to 28 days later.  Manchester is burning and all of England is scattered with wrecked vehicles, loose paper blowing in the wind, and dead bodies.  This is striking because every other movie would have been written with the story smack dab in the middle of the outbreak and chaos.

Instead, it picks up when a bicycle courier named Jim (the wonderful Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma in an empty hospital room.  As he slowly walks through the disheveled hospital and out into the even more ruined streets, the viewer sees the damage as Jim sees it.  He, unlike us, has no idea what cause all the wreckage and decay.  The atmospheric rock rises as his realization of the extent of the terror does until it culminates with the discovery of a missing persons kiosk in the middle of the city covered with fading and worn photos and desperate messages.  After discovering the first of the many infected zombies throughout the film inside a very frightening church, he meets up with two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who save his life and inform him of the carnage that ensued in the previous 28 days.

In a normal zombie movie, you kill off all the zombies, losing some of your rag tag crew along the way.  In 28 Days Later, you just try to survive.  That leads to the discovery of Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) hiding out in a tiny apartment.  Frank found a radio message from the army saying the answer to infection was in Manchester.  Bickering and bonding leads them to Manchester, where a small group of soldiers waits for women to repopulate the earth. 

It's insane, but it all makes sense.  People clamor for survival when they see normality slip through their fingers.  They change.  They do things they wouldn't do otherwise.  They kill to live.

All the intensity you can wrap into a tiny independent UK movie is in 28 Days Later.  It features great performances from Murphy, Harris, and Gleeson and ushers in the return of Boyle (The Beach, Trainspotting) as a visionary director.  What impresses the most is the restraint when any other filmmaker would have started a barrage of action.  Apparently, Boyle and his writer Garland know that scares come from raging savages and the promise of loneliness in equal amounts.

I want to write the whole thing down, to share the gem of a movie I found last March, but you ought to experience it on your own.  Just watch it.  Leave a light on.



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