What worries me about 28 Days Later is that it's a good film which may fail because of its marketing efforts. Every trailer and TV spot makes 28 Days Later appear to be non-stop zombie action when, in fact, things take awhile to get going in the undead department.
The "zombies" are not actual zombies risen from the grave. They are human beings infected with a virus called "rage." This virus, possibly a biological weapon, is accidentally unleashed on humanity by a group of animal activists in Britain who free monkeys infected with the virus. Within weeks, the virus spreads throughout England, killing millions. Symptoms of rage include: the uncontrollable urge to feast on non-infected humans, red eyes, incomprehensible speech and blood vomiting. As the film begins, there are only a handful of "normal" people left, scattered throughout the country and far outnumbered by the "infected." Given current conditions, (SARS, Monkeypox, Middle East unrest), the virus aspect provides an extra layer of creepiness.
When our main character Jim exits the hospital where he has been unconscious for 28 Days due to a car accident, he wanders the empty streets of London in a daze. There are indications of chaos and rioting, but no one answers Jim's calls and all is eerie and still. Almost the entire first-third of the film is devoted to exploring this Omega Man-esque world, so those expecting a gore-fest will likely find this section slow and boring. I found it to be the most suspenseful.
Eventually, Jim encounters two other survivors, Mark and Selena, who save him from a red-eyed infected priest and explain the general situation. Later, the group meets a taxi driver and his daughter who tell them about a radio broadcast from a possible outpost of soldiers in Manchester. The journey is a two-day drive requiring a trip through an underground tunnel and a night in the wilderness. Needless to say, at this point the action begins to pick up.
Director Danny Boyle would do well to discover the medium shot for use in his attack scenes, but by and large he has made a fine zombie film in the tradition of Dawn of the/Day of the...Dead. The acting is adequate, and the writing is more intelligent than the average horror film, script. As for the scares, they are mostly gore-and-gun based as opposed to the BOO!-jump-out-and-grab-you kind.
Also of note, is the look of 28 Days Later. Due to a tiny $15 million budget (consider that the average Hollywood picture costs $80 million), 28 Days Later was shot almost entirely on digital video. Some stodgy critics will complain the DV look is distracting, but I think a film-look would be detrimental to the film. First of all, the action is faster with DV. A video camera can capture a certain kind of panicked pivoting in a way that would be very complicated for a heavy 35mm unit. Secondly, the video footage makes the images look more realistic. The first ten minutes of the film look like documentary footage of a post-apocalyptic world.
Contrary to the ad campaign, 28 Days Later will probably not make the list of the 10 greatest zombie films of all time, but it's still worth seeing. The story is interesting and frightening relevant, and you can count on a more than adequate amount of blood, gore and scares in the third act.
-Megan A. Denny