28 DAYS LATER
Review by Michael Jacobson
Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Ecclestone, Megan Burns,
Brendan Gleeson, Noah Huntley
Director: Danny Boyle
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 113 Minutes
Release Date: October 21, 2003
– THE END IS EXTREMELY F**KING NIGH
Days Later is
an unsettling apocalyptic vision that unfairly yet brilliantly plays on fears
spawned from everyday headlines. In
a time when biological weapons are a stark reality, infectious diseases strike,
spread and scare entire populations, and the threat of terrorism means the end
could come so quickly we don’t even have time to recognize it, director Danny
Boyle weaves them all like sinister threads in a tapestry that bypasses our base
perceptions and goes straight for what has become our most instinctual fears.
starts with a tremendous bang, as animal rights activists break into a science
lab where chimps have been caged, wired, and forced to watch horrific images on
video monitors. One lab worker
screams in terror for them not to release the animals; they’ve been infected
with “rage”. The activists
don’t listen. One cage is opened,
and a horrific scene of violence unfolds at breakneck speeds as the horror of
the disease spreads like dominos falling. Then
the ominous title screen: “28
there where we meet Jim (Murphy), who awakens in a hospital room after an
accident and finds…nothing. The
hospital is abandoned. The phones
don’t work. In a sequence of some
of the most impressive images of the year, he wanders through London, shouting
for anybody who can hear him. There
is no one…the city is quiet and deserted.
has his first encounter with what has happened in a church, which leads him to
two survivors. Selena (Harris) has
stayed alive by being ruthless, while Mark (Huntley) is the one who brings Jim
(and us) up to date (“I have some bad news…”).
That lab virus spread through the population and virtually eradicated it
in just four weeks. Contact with
the blood of one of the ‘creatures’ means certain infection; when it
happens, you have only 20 seconds tops before the victim succumbs to murderous
eventually meet up with another pair of survivors: Frank (Gleeson) and his young daughter Hannah (Burns), who
have picked up a repeating Army radio signal directing them to a blockade on the
other side of Manchester. It’s a
long, dangerous trek, and it may be all for naught, but they have to take the
chance. This leads to some great
scenes that both develop the characters some and also work on our already frayed
nerves. One bit involving a dark
tunnel will have you nearly at wit’s end.
is a film with plenty of opportunity to surprise, and it doesn’t disappoint.
This is a world where death could come from any place or around any
corner, and when it comes, it’s furiously fast and relentless.
Characters we like may not be spared.
Even when they find the shelter they’ve been seeking, it comes with a
harsh twist, which I wouldn’t dream of giving away.
is probably the darkest and most pessimistic vision of human eradication since
George Romero’s Day of the Dead. In
fact, fans of the Dead trilogy will find homage to all three films here
and there in Boyle’s offering. Not
to say that 28 Days Later is unoriginal…far from it.
But Romero laid a strong foundation for the so-called “zombie” movie
that has stood the test of the time and many inferior films.
Boyle’s works because he successfully crafts his own mythology to go
along with the basic formulas.
movie also became the first film to carry an alternate ending while still in
theatrical release; which supposedly came about because the film had a different
finale in its original British run than what was shown to American audiences.
That alternate ending (along with two others; more on those further down)
is here, but I have to say, I have a bit of a problem with both endings.
The American theatrical ending is a little optimistic, which is merciful
but seems like a misstep given the starkness of the vision that unfolded before
it. The other ending is more
appropriately down, but not quite worthy of the hype played up for it when it
came to theatres. Seeing both
endings on the same strip of film inspires an unsavory ambiguous
reaction…which do you take with you since both cannot have happened?
think I would have preferred the grimmer ending, which kind of kicks us when
we’re already down and leaves us with a sense of hopelessness.
Danny Boyle himself remarked that such an ending seemed cruel, and maybe
so…but it was right.
being said, 28 Days Later is still effective and disquieting.
Boyle’s cinematic style, which involves using video instead of film for
a grittier, more documentary-like feel, along with his terrific camerawork,
kinetic editing interwoven into long, contemplative shots, and his sense of
staging and use of framing all add intensity and drama to what is already good
horror. He creates a nightmare of epic proportions, but it’s seen
as though through a microscope; focusing in on a tiny batch of protagonists and
letting the script, the settings and our imagination fill in the breadth of the
film also works because we’re now in an age where we can’t quite dismiss
these events as implausible, unlike the way we could when watching Romero’s
dead come back to life. Danny Boyle
uses our own paranoia against us. It
would seem like a cheap shot if it wasn’t for the fact that his movie is so
superbly crafted. But because it
is, it’s haunting, disturbing, and ultimately unforgettable.
is a terrific anamorphic transfer from Fox…the video source material makes it
deliberately a little grittier, but DVD renders a better picture for it than the
theatrical release did. There is
grit, but it isn’t as murky…in fact, I noticed a lot more detail with this
disc on my small screen than I did on the big one at the movies.
Some of the darker scenes are a little more grainy, and colors tend to be
a tad muted, but again, that all goes back to the choice of stock.
High marks still.
is an intensely dynamic audio track with scenes ranging from dead silent to
explosively loud. The music, which
is often so well integrated that you’re not really paying attention to it,
gets the benefit of surround orchestration, and the action scenes fly at you
from all directions with discreet audio tracks that are very well mixed and
balanced. Dialogue is clean and
clear. This is a 5.1 tracks that
really pumps up the experience of the movie.
impressive special edition release from Fox, this disc boasts the aforementioned
three alternate endings for starters. The alternate theatrical one shows you what you would have
seen past the end credits if you stayed at the theatre. The second alternate one was never transferred from video to
film, and is essentially the first ending taken a step further.
The “radical” ending actually re-routes the story with no army
presence…it’s in storyboard form, with voices provided by Danny Boyle and
producer Andrew MacDonald, who also provide optional commentary for the other
and screenwriter Alex Garland united for a feature commentary, which is
generally interesting, but sometimes sparse, falling quiet for small sections at
a time. A making-of featurette is
better, but also a bit of a downer, because it starts off detailing the reality
of our world of infectious deadly diseases.
There are also 6 delete scenes with optional commentary, a Jacknife Lee
music video, animated storyboards, galleries and a theatrical and teaser