Oct 18, 2023
28 Days Later is one of the best zombie movies ever made, having popularized the fast zombie craze of modern-day cinema and terrified moviegoers around the world with its horrific scenario.
Rating: 5 out of 5 raging zombies
Growing up as a Gen Xer, I was, of course, aware of George Romero’s infamous zombie canon and was intrigued by the whole concept, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s when a friend made me watch 28 Days Later (2002) that my intrigue completely changed. Not only was 28 Days Later my first introduction to the brilliantly talented Cillian Murphy (Oppenheimer), but it was also my first intro to a new kind of zombie beyond the slow, dread-inducing shufflers of the 20th century.
Prior to watching 28 Days Later, I’d never seen (or even considered) fast, vicious, blood-thirsty zombies, and the idea was so horrifying to me that after watching it, my zombie interest turned into obsession. Although Nightmare City (1980) is often credited as the first movie featuring fast zombies, it was 28 Days Later that popularized the fast zombie craze of modern-day cinema and terrified zombie lovers and moviegoers around the world with its horrific scenario.
And don’t get me wrong: While I love the concept, if fast zombies ever appear and start chasing us and we’re running together, I will trip you in my effort to reach safety.
Following the aftermath of a deadly viral outbreak in Great Britain, 28 Days Later focuses on Jim (Cillian Murphy, of Oppenheimer), a bicycle courier who wakes up from a coma 28 days after an accident to discover bustling London life completely obliterated and in total destruction, not another human soul in sight. After wandering the streets alone and easing into a church, Jim realizes the horror of the situation he finds himself in when he is chased by raging, bloodthirsty, once-human creatures.
It’s only after he’s rescued by a couple of survivors that he learns what has happened.
Nearly a month prior to Jim’s awakening, a group of eco-terrorists in Cambridge freed a lab chimp from its cage, not realizing the chimp was infected with a highly contagious, aggression-inducing virus called the “Rage virus.” Unlike what we’ve seen in other zombie movies, one does not have to be bitten to be infected. All it takes is one drop of blood from an infected to drip into your eye or mouth or an open wound, etc., and that’s it: You’re done. Within seconds, the virus overtakes its host, completely morphing him/her/them into a violent, vicious creature that aggressively salivates for one thing: bloody carnage. Case in point: Check out what happens to Brendan Gleeson (In Bruges) after a drop of infected blood gets in his eye (warning: the scene below is intense):
While this scenario is indeed horrifying, heart-pounding, and hair-raising, it’s not what makes 28 Days Later such a terrifying film. The fact that what was once the military has set up a blockade and is broadcasting protection as a cover to lure female survivors into sexual slavery so they can repopulate the world does. And this is where the movie really gets delicious, as Jim jumps into action to save the only two females he’s come to know—one being a minor.
28 Days Later shows what happens to society in a frantic, post-apocalyptic crisis. In such a scenario, you’d like to think that when there’s a common enemy to fight, humanity would band together, but it doesn’t happen like that: The law breaks down, forcing humans to self-regulate, and self-regulation always leads to a form of anarchy, which is what we see here. 28 Days Later is arguably the first zombie film to successfully show the true breakdown of humanity and those effects in a post-apocalyptic crisis.
Furthermore, while these fast zombies serve as a symbol of loss and meaning amongst a plethora of society vacancies, they also serve as metaphors for society's need for immediate, mindless consumption of, well, everything. So where there are multiple interpretations of a zombie crisis between all zombie movies, one thing that remains standard throughout all of them: Human beings can’t be trusted to take care of each other in the middle of a crisis where there is no collective hope because consumption has taken over.
There’s a lot about 28 Days Later that is hands-down masterful, including its horror within the horror story, but what I love the most is the way Director Danny Boyle juxtaposes the terror of what is happening with the beauty of nature (i.e., colorful geometric tulip fields and sprawling English country sides)—ironic since nature is where viruses originate. That alone is what easily makes 28 Days Later one of the best zombie movies ever made. In addition to its stellar narrative, the actors each give outstanding performances riddled with inherent fear, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, and the creative editing techniques as well as the soundtrack nicely drive the tension and pace of the movie, allowing the viewer to oscillate between safety and fear as 28 Days Later moves through its cycle of death, destruction, and rebirth.
In 2007, a sequel released called 28 Weeks Later, but it was not written by 28 Days Later screenwriter Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, Sunshine), was not directed by Danny Boyle, nor did it feature Cillian Murphy and his character Jim. Some liked it; some didn’t. However, there is hope. Word on the circuit is that it looks like Garland, Boyle, and Murphy are teaming back up to bring us another sequel, which will likely be called 28 Years Later.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m already waiting with my giant bucket o’ popcorn and my safety blanket.
Oddly enough, while 28 Weeks Later seems to be streaming multiple places, 28 Days Later is not currently streaming anywhere but is available to purchase and is well worth the fee.
Keeley Brooks is a big ole movies, television, and streaming nerd with a voracious appetite for entertainment consumption and an uncontrollable urge to write about everything she watches, even if it sucks.