Published Jun 29, 2003

Were I a real movie reviewer, I’d start this out with a thorough retrospective of the zombie movie genre and also weave in an overview of the difficulties of importing artistic British movies. And yada yada yada. Well, movie reviewers are like that, especially in LA, where everybody knows the biz.

But I’m no Manohla Dargis. I’m just an ordinary guy who likes really brilliant filmmaking like that in 28 Days Later.

Okay, first the obligatory brief summary of the movie. Bike courier is hit by car. Bike courier is in coma. Bike courier wakes from coma. Bike courier finds nobody is around, anywhere, in the center of London. Bike courier travels London, finds many dead, others zombified, is almost eaten alive. Bike courier finds other survivors, falls in with them, travels north to Manchester to try and find civilization.

It’s not a bad plot, and, in its ultimate construction, works very well. Action moves on at an appropriate pace, with breaks being taken at the right moments and suspense and motion coming naturally. Nothing is rushed, and there are no deus ex machinas. The quality of the basic concept, and the strong script, pay off through the film.

The acting is also fine. Even the incidental characters are convincing — although it must be said that this may be a function of the British style of acting. Who, after all, hasn’t at sometime said, “Ahh, now that’s some fine classically-trained acting?” Yeah, so the perceived quality of the acting in this movie might just be a side effect of some built-in American sense of submission to the mother country.

The cinematography was good too, few really striking shots but every shot just so. The film had a strange look to it — at first I thought it was 8mm — which, reading up on the topic, I learn is a from using all digital. The result is close to Dr. Who vs. the Daleks and adds to the feel of urgency and disaster that permeates the film.

Now, I know you’re saying, “but Wade, you’ve gone 350 words and you haven’t even mentioned the zombies! Everybody just prattles on and on about the zombies!” Well, I didn’t talk about ‘em ‘cause everyone else already did. What can I say, they’re great zombies! Not clumsy, oafish, moaning zombies, plaintively (and mellowly) calling out for brains, the infected in 28 Days Later are fervent, raspy, blood-covered and vicious. They seem to have some innate, reptile intelligence straight from the id. They scream eerily and breathe heavily and decidedly deserve death. And I feared their appearance at every moment.

No review of a horror movie can go without mentioning the blood and gore in it. And this was a bloody and gory movie, no missing it — but not so much as many of today’s pictures. At many points, the extent of the actual violence was left to the viewer’s imagination; at other times, the violence was heavily backlit or carried out at night, so that only the outline of bodies or certain highlighted areas were visible. Other fights used fast cuts to show the highlights. Only at the very end, when violence was necessary — both morally and to the plot — did we really see any extended explicit gore. The total effect was much better than any five disembowelments or dozen flayings.

The selective level of violence shown was a side effect, I believe, of the moviemakers’ good understanding of suspense. Strategic use of surprise gave us shocking scenes and also created the anticipation of disaster at many other key points — but surprise was never overused, so we never knew what was coming next. Art vs. sledgehammer.

So what is there left to say? This was a good movie. Go see it.