For a good majority of the movie going collective, we have all heard of director Danny Boyle and how his films served to revitalize British cinema in the mid 90’s. It should be no surprise that his first directorial debut, Shallow Grave in 1994 garnered him well deserved press and paved the way for the more widely received and distributed Trainspotting in 1996. 28 Days Later followed after several less successful though critically received films in 2002, not counting two made for British television movies, but it was probably the indie hit sensation and award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire in 2008 that garnered him the most acclaim and household recognition. As a result of his films or in despite of them, he’ll be the artistic director for the 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremony.
But back in 2002, Boyle set out to explore much more than zombie carnage in a post apocalyptic London. What is evident here is a filmmaker who is constantly at work and play with his environment, one who prefers working with themes without borders that are often directly at odds with one another. It is no surprise that Boyle purposefully explores such themes in 28 Days Later, issues of environmental catastrophe buttressed by social distress as the very vehicle for analysis that might seem out-of-place in a horror film. But that is exactly why Boyle, who will be 54 this October, wanted to make a movie that appears as one thing but contains many of the themes he has worked with since – namely alienation, politics, and class economics. It’s no stretch to assume the usual zombie aficionado isn’t similarly interested in the goings and comings of politics and sociology. Yet the foundation for 28 Days Later seems to poke a stick at just such an audience by focusing on disenfranchised youth trying to survive without the very frivolity of a society that they were hardly a part of in the first place. This motley group of strangers fumbles about while searching for sanctuary four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads through the UK. 28 Days Later picks up where everything we know has ended and holds our heads there as if submerged in the dank waters of familiarity turned inside out.
2002 might be thought of as the beginning of the past decades fascination with doom and gloom movies, end of the world apocalypse and night and day of the living dead. The list of films about the doom of the planet and/or her people is as long as my arm. Yet these themes continue to surface in films, literature and theater all over the world, perhaps due in short to mounting concerns with global warming, genocide, and environmental disasters. 28 Days Later wasn’t the most successful end of the world film of all time but it did open the door for many films, lesser and greater to follow. Based on MTV’s animated series, Aeon Flux crashed landed in 2005, a critical and box office failure about a mysterious assassin working for a group of rebels trying to overthrow the government. In 2006, the far more successful and brilliantly adapted film Children of Men starring Clive Owen, Michael Caine, and Julianne Moore with a screenplay by Alfronso Cuaron, among others, explores the not so distant future where humans can no longer procreate and drastic measures are needed to save the future of humankind. The inevitable sequel to 28 Days Later, simply called 28 Weeks Later was generally well received and experienced modest success in 2007, though Boyle chose to sit this one out. That same year Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend, the direct to DVD American doomsday film I Am Omega, and the beginning of the Resident Evil franchise all hit audiences with varying degrees of palatability with similar dystopian tales of a world on the brink of destruction at our own hands. This is not counting the onslaught of other films in and just outside the genre, but you get an idea of the momentum of the movement – take into consideration The Road and The Book of Eli which I have reviewed here at Above The Line.
Since there are dozens of reviews about 28 Days Later all over the net, I decided to collect a few of them for reference here.
“Parents need to know that this movie is very scary and deeply disturbing. It has extreme and graphic peril and violence. Many characters are killed. Characters use very strong language. There is frontal male nudity. Characters drink and take drugs. There are sexual references, including rape.”
David Edelstein says, “This is finally the zombie flick as cautionary political tale, and as humanist parable. It’s not the flesh-gouging zombie we have to worry about, the filmmakers suggest, but the soul-gouging zombie within.”
And for every positive review of 28 Days Later there are dozens of others who aggressively chastise the film for the depiction of gratuitous violence and overtly disturbing behavior – all the things one might expect from any number of zombie horror flicks before and after. Where others have commented on the social and political messages within the film, the humanist parable or the plain paper-bag treatment of ghouls, zombies, and senseless killing – one can easily see that there is something for everyone in Danny Boyle’s films. And if he leaves you vexed or otherwise at odds with the surface of his movies, dare I say the next layer down, then he has succeeded where box office receipts and critical reviews matter about as much as Ipods without a charger in the not so distant future.