If you're a fan of horror films, real scary movies, we owe the British for this. Trainspotting director Danny Boyle has exported his film 28 Days Later from England just in time, providing some much needed chills to a summer that's been a bit too hot thus far.
Imagine waking up in a hospital all alone. No doctors, no nurses. You get up, detach yourself from the various tubes and wires, and walk out. The hallways look like a vicious pack of four-year olds have been playing in them, everything strewn this way and that. Still no people. You walk down into the lobby. Still no people. You walk out into the normally busy streets of a large city. Still no people. This is the fate that has befallen Jim after he wakes in a London hospital all alone. His quest quickly becomes to find out what happened and to try to find any other people who might also still be alive.
While not a traditional zombie movie, this film follows all the traditions set forth by people like George Romero and survival horror video game titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. This film puts you on edge right from the get-go, and makes relaxing at any point a bit perilous. There are always jolts and jumps waiting around the next corner, or maybe the one after that. Either way, this film is exceptionally suspenseful and leaves you breathless by the time it reaches its conclusion.
This film stars no one that the bulk of American audiences would know, but you quickly forget that you've never seen these people before. Director Boyle and writer Alex Garland have woven a story that quickly captures your attention. Jim and the few (very few) healthy people he finds quickly become individuals the audience will care about, and thus the threats to their very existence that arise during the course of the film seem all that much more threatening.
Cillian Murphy does a wonderful job as Jim, the normal guy suddenly and awkwardly thrust into the role of leader and hero. It is through his reactions that we feel what it must be like to wake into a world devoid of all that is 'normal' for our modern society. Megan Burns plays Hannah, the first person Jim comes upon, and she is unlike any traditional female lead we've seen in a long time. She is tough, cynical, and can take care of herself better than anyone else we see. That she finds a situation where she can't is not due to the filmmaker's caving in on her character, but a testimony to how ugly and brutal life in this particular world is.
The visuals are striking and stark, and beautifully shot. All the scenes of the deserted London were actually shot in London. In an interview with res.com, Danny Boyle explained how they were able to shoot scenes with absolutely no people, no movement, no noise, to give the real London the feel of a ghost town: "We literally turned up and spent a couple of minutes filming in each place, but with 10 cameras. And we'd choose the angles, set them up very carefully so we knew that when we cut them together it would make you feel like it was rolling on and that you were walking around the city with him and there was no one there. You immediately begin to pull the audience into this strange, new universe really, so when the attacks come, you feel vulnerable as well because you've been lured in." You can read the entire interview with Danny Boyle here.
Also, it is only fitting to warn those who might be looking for a British Night of the Living Dead: 28 Days Later isn't it. Director Boyle and writer Garland have taken the basic formula, but the creatures in this film are not technically zombies, nor do they necessarily have all the behavioral traits of zombies. They're unique creatures, with their own methods of hunting and their own method of survival. They do share some traits with Romero's zombies (such as their insatiable thirst for warm human blood) but those seeking the slow, shuffling, moaning creations of Night of the Living Dead may be disappointed.
28 Days Later earns itself a very enthusiastic A. For a film, it's suspenseful, thrilling and engaging. For a horror film, it's daring, respectful of its progenitors, and a lesson for American filmmakers on how to make a really scary movie. Let's hope they're watching, and that they learn the lessons this film has to teach.