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28 Days Later
Fox // R // October 28, 2003
List Price: $27.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Ads for "28 Days Later" pushed the fact that director Danny Boyle had put together something that would revolutionize horror, or something along those lines, which seemed a little too boastful. It isn't anything really groundbreaking, but this British hit really does succeed in several areas. A successful (both here and overseas) picture for Boyle after a couple of stinging misses (the okay "The Beach" and the oddball "A Life Less Ordinary"), "28" begins with a group of animal activists break into a facility to release a group of monkeys, only to find out that said monkeys contain a terrible virus that is passed quite easily.
Skip ahead to 28 days later, when Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens in a London hospital, where he was unconscious. He walks into the street to find that there's no one there. The world seems to have emptied out completely, which is a remarkably creepy and impressive accomplishment by director Boyle, especially on a somewhat low budget and in a major city.
It's not long before Jim learns more about what happened: first, he's attacked by one of the infected and then saved by Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), a couple of survivors who inform him about what happened. A virus that sends the infected into a bloodthirsty rage has spread through the population, and has spread rapidly. There's nothing left, we're told; no government, no police, no army, no television, no radio, no electricity.
The picture is a mixture of psychological horror, road movie and the old-fashioned gory thriller. There's a strong sense of melancholy and sadness underlying the film, brought out by some of the stories the survivors tell of the last moments before the lights went out. But, really, that's the film's trick; when viewers have been pulled into following the characters and their memories, out pops one of the infected, who attack viciously. Boyle turns a flat tire in a dark tunnel into one of the more suspenseful scenes in ages. Although most pictures in this genre that try to have it both ways - popcorn scary and character-driven - fail to do both, "28 Days Later" actually manages a nice balance.
The film's soundtrack doesn't use the familiar shock cords of the "horror" score, really: the whole soundtrack becomes a shock cord, exploding with music and sound effects that shatter the quiet. The digital video film - filmed on DV to both lower the budget and give the film a surreal appearance - achieves a look that does effectively capture the atmosphere it looks to have been going for. The creative camera angles also add to the surreal and disorienting feeling. The performances are quite good, too. Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris and Noah Huntley are quite believable as the main trio of survivors, while Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns are superb as the father/daughter pair that join the band of humans looking for an answer to the virus. Christopher Eccelston ("Jude") does a fine job as the secretive commander of a near-deserted military base the survivors reach, as well.
To put it simply, I liked this movie. While its plot isn't entirely original, it does manage to craft a surprisingly believable environment and offers strong characters that the audience grows to care about. The second half of the film, at least once the film reaches the military base, also starts to really become a bit more unpredictable. While stretches of the film are saddening and powerful, Boyle also manages to insert a few good jump scares, too.
VIDEO: "28 Days Later" was shot on digital video, both to cut cost and to give the film a rough appearance that would - if successful - give the film a look that would bring the audience further into the reality presented within this tale. Although I can't say that I've been a big fan of the look of digital video, it has seemingly gotten better with the passing years, and "28 Days Later" does capture the post-apocalyptic feel it was going for quite well, although some will probably not enjoy the deliberately murky imagery.
Sharpness and detail vary throughout the film, due to the DV camera, it appears. Throughout the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, there are times - especially during darker scenes - when the picture appears soft and even slightly blurry. On the other hand, definition in some of the brighter shots can be quite good.
The usual set of flaws, however, are generally minor. A couple of slight traces of compression artifacts are spotted, as is some edge enhancement. The film's dark color palette looked accurately rendered and surreal. Overall, a pretty good transfer of visually difficult material.
SOUND: "28 Days Later" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. More than any soundtrack I can remember in recent history, this one can go from pin-drop quiet to enormously loud in a heartbeat, so be sure to recognize that when volume is set before the movie begins, or you'll find yourself running for the remote. Surrounds are involved throughout the show; they provide nice, minor ambience during the quieter scenes and more aggressive effects during the attracks.
Commentary: This is a commentary from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland, who also wrote the novel "The Beach", which was Boyle's prior film. It's a very good commentary that launches right into the discussion, as Boyle and Garland present an interesting overview of both the technical and the story, as they go through things like casting, the digital video filming and character/story development. Boyle has some great stories to share, such as how he was able to hold back the traffic to try and film London in a way that made it appear as if it was unpopulated. This was a fun track that was both informative and insightful. Although Boyle does much of the talking, Garland does have a good amount to offer, as well.
Alternate Endings: 3 alternate endings are offered, including the one that ran after the film in theaters. A marketing idea (although I'm not sure how successful it was), another ending ran after the credits in theaters a few weeks after the film was released, to try and get people in for another showing. There is also another "radical" alternate ending that is presented in storyboard form, while the dialogue and direction are read. The alternate theatrical ending is interesting, but I'm not sure I like it more or less than the theatrical one. The other two endings don't work (the "radical" ending doesn't work because it goes against other story elements). Commentary from director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland is optional.
Marketing: The film's terrific (much better than the TV ads) theatrical trailer and teaser trailer, along with a music video and animated storyboards from the UK website.
Also: A decent "making of" documentary, 6 deleted scenes (w/optional commentary) and polaroid/production photo galleries w/commentary.
Final Thoughts: A wild little movie that manages to have good character moments, jump scares and a mixture of subgenres, "28 Days Later" is an intelligent and enjoyable feature that I found entertaining and involving. Fox's DVD edition provides strong audio quality, good video quality (considering the grim/DV appearance) and fine supplements. Recommended.