Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #433
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: 1 November 2002 (United Kingdom)
Sub-Genre: Apocalyptic Horror
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Box Office: $82,700,000
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: Danny Boyle
Producer: Andrew Macdonald
Screenplay: Alex Garland
Special Effects: Richard Conway, Bob Hollow, Andy Garner
Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
Score: John Murphy
Editing: Chris Gill
Studio: DNA Films, British Film Council
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, Noah Huntley, Stuart McQuarrie, Ricci Harnett, Leo Bill, Luke Mably, Junior Laniyan, Ray Panthaki, Sanjay Rambaruth, Marvin Campbell, David Schneider
Suggested Audio Candy
John Murphy “28 Theme”
I have often pondered what my actions would be should the world grind to an unforeseen end anytime soon. Given the freedom to operate, it is likely that I would satisfy a number of my lifelong ambitions. These include burning the houses of parliament down to the ground, streaking through the capital wearing only a bow-tie, and playing LL Cool J’s I’m Bad full decibel in the nearest library. That would equate to my first hour’s entertainment but then I suspect loneliness would creep in and I would no longer enjoy the silence. I’ve always been self-sufficient and “me time” is something which I gladly partake in at every given opportunity but, as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”. I suspect it wouldn’t be long before things grew somewhat tiresome.
I love Thom Bernhardt’s Night of The Comet with an almost unrivaled passion and also fondly recall an episode of The Twilight Zone called A Little Peace and Quiet from around the same time. The latter afforded Dee Wallace the opportunity to pause the rest of humanity at her own command; thus making her daily chores much less of a grind. Of course, there were distinct down sides to being able to play God, but skipping queue at her local mall wasn’t one of them. I find the concept fascinating and Danny Boyle’s highly regarded apocalyptic thriller, 28 Days Later, provides Cillian Murphy’s Jim with similar anonymity. After waking from a lengthy coma, without a stitch of clothing, in an abandoned hospital, the bicycle courier soon discovers that flying solo isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
He’s not totally alone and, after attending mass at a nearby chapel and being set upon by a band of less than hospitable mutants, he happens across Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) and decides that tagging on would be advisable. They procrastinate not in bringing him up to speed on any events he may have missed during his prolonged sleep and they are far less than encouraging. The population has been almost entirely wiped out by the sudden outbreak of a particularly mean-spirited virus. This epidemic makes bird flu seem like a bout of harmless influenza and even the mighty Ebola has nothing on “The Rage”. Lob in shell-shocked cabbie Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his young daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) to make up the numbers and we are left with a far more comforting ratio of marauding zombies to survivors. However, at approximately 64,000,000:5, any safe passage still appears a far cry from foregone conclusion.
By 2002, George A. Romero’s shuffling deadbeats were more than primed to be provided their new lease of death, and a fresh zombie pandemic was preparing to spread. Romero himself would ultimately revisit his old stomping grounds with Land of The Dead in 2005 but Boyle decided not to take the carbon copy route and Alex Garland’s novel supplied him with a unique take on the age-old theme proposed to largely sidestep comparison. Certain quarters somehow managed to take exception to his pacy horde and suggested that running shoes should never be supplied to anything lacking a pulse. However, Garland and Boyle had no intention of bandwagon jumping and, instead, were looking to tell an entirely different tale.
This is not to say that 28 Days Later doesn’t tackle similar parallels, most notably, mankind’s savage nature once survival has been reserved only for the fittest. The nationwide infection proves to be one of two distinct threats posed to our unlikely heroes as the military are never far away when that first canister becomes compromised and will go to great lengths to remind any stragglers who is holding the semi-automatic and, indeed, any diminutive power. For large periods here, the exposed pose little more than mild distraction, but eventually it’s time for that reality check. Humanity’s plight is looking rather bleak and inevitability rears its ugly head. There can be no vaccine for fury and The Rage is disinterested with taking prisoners.
Imagine, if you will, the most exasperating set of circumstances you can conjure up; then multiply it by Boyle’s numeral. If I were to be bound to Sandra Bullock, gagged using Steve Zahn’s gym sock, and given a V.I.P. seat for twenty-eight Justin Bieber encores of Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo, then I’d be fucking embittered too. Contracting The Rage is very nearly as mortifying a prospect and involves taking permanent leave of your senses and bolting about in a similar state of frustration. In the history of people you wouldn’t wish to run into in a dark alley at the dead of night, our rage carriers rank right up there with the aforementioned Bieber and Ed Gein. Actually, scrap the former. Five-minutes alone with that little shit pimple and I’d administer a rage all of my own. But you get my general gist.
The Rage is ultimately a metaphor for social decline. Any decomposition occurs within its subjects’ minds and simply amplifies the madness which exists in us all. Think mad cow disease peppered with anthrax, then served up with a side of road rage, and you’ll have a fair idea of what Garland and Boyle are driving at. Speaking of motorists, any haunting shots of deserted London involved closing specific roads for an hour each afternoon, before any rush hour traffic could be instigated. To prevent any real life outbursts, Boyle enlisted several attractive females including his own daughter, to flash their dimples whilst turning away any commuters. The barren urban wasteland whispers quiet desolation and Anthony Dod Mantle captures this brilliantly with some outstanding photography. Meanwhile, John Murphy’s suitably despairing score donates additional degrees of disquietude.
Murphy gives a compelling turn as everyman Jim, while Harris provides able support as Serena. She is a smart, resourceful survivalist, unapologetic about snuffing out anyone who appears to have contracted the virus but, as the movie wears on, becomes prone to occasional flashes of optimism. Jim, on the other hand, spends the first half of the film largely anesthetized but gradually vacates his slumber. Any love interest hinted at by Garland’s screenplay is played down and their relationship remains platonic throughout. Meanwhile, Gleeson is always a joy to watch and plays the protective father to perfection. The military, on the other hand, are largely portrayed as merciless pack animals, lacking any kind of moral fiber whatsoever, although any disconnect felt is clearly intentional.
28 Days Later comprises two opposing halves. The first is the more reserved and focuses on the isolation of the allies’ plight and the inconvenient truths they are forced to accept. The second, set almost entirely in a fortified English mansion, is far more frenetic and penned in, stark contrast to the deserted London sandbox depicted earlier. Just like Romero’s Day of The Dead, we are offered a less than picturesque vision of the future as the lines between us and them become blurred. It’s a solid, well-made thriller, which spawned a similarly astute sequel, but never quite scales the heights of Romero’s enduring legacy. However, if offered the choice between vegetarian lunch with Bub and a food fight with those afflicted by The Rage, it becomes something of a no-brainer. Would you care to pass the salad Bub and who told you that you could borrow my razor?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: While unquestionably violent, Chris Gill’s lightning fast edits place us in the position of horrified on-looker without lingering too much on the blast radius. Given that there are mere seconds between the infected vomiting blood and transforming into rabid predators; his decision is justified. Shuffling zombies fill their cheeks when presented with finger foods whereas Rage carriers desire only to tear you a fresh orifice. Ironically, the most punishing attack is performed by a human on another human, proving beyond all reasonable doubt, that man ain’t that kind after all.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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