28 Days Later

Warning: There are a few spoilers below (again thanks to MacTingz)

I just finished watching 28 Days Later for the first time since its theatrical run. I remember disliking it initially but really enjoyed it this time. It’s possible the reasons it left such a negative impression has less to do with the film and more with me: at the time I was a zombie purist, believing anything mimicking George A. Romero films or maneuvering into the surreal in this genre was banal. I think I’ve outgrown this sentiment, explaining my enjoyment this time around. Danny Boyle’s zombie film does sometimes retreat into the absurd with the visuals – fields of pastel looking flowers, animated windmills, etc. – but where this bothered me before it’s now just part of the film’s aesthetic and doesn’t really bother me. The film itself is more interesting than these few moments I disliked before; the way it presents sadism and humanity’s primal instincts, whether the characters are humans or zombies, is aptly accomplished.

28 Days Later’s final act is a sublime investigation of humanity’s violent nature, showing what’s perceived as a violent other and the violence inherent in familiars. After finding the military blockade Jim, Hannah, and Selena end up with a group of soldiers who initially seem benevolent but end up being sexually frustrated and keen on raping Jim’s female companions (even though Hannah’s only about 12 or 13). These characters embody both sex and violence – willing to commit violence for sex. What really makes them any different from the infected zombies? Their willingness to torture and harm women, women who survived a gruelingly violent new world and who are potentially the last few people alive anywhere, is appalling. After the soldiers realize Jim doesn’t condone their plans he’s targeted for death, barely surviving. This leads into his revenge strategy, where he acknowledges his primal nature and systematically forges the demise of the offending soldiers.

Boyle’s male protagonist embraces the nature of the soldiers and the millions, if not billions, of zombies outside the blockade in order to save his friends. Once again, what makes him any different from the zombies? Jim’s adherence to the ethics and morals of a deceased world are admirable and separate him from the amoral soldiers; his loyalty to his friends is also commendable, but engaging in cold-blooded murder, even against the guilty, still places him in the cruel category. Of course, I could say everybody is capable of murder and Boyle’s film comments on how people are all the same regardless of how we classify them; that despite national boundaries and the “us and them” world we inhabit everybody is capable of barbarism – regardless of creed, national origin, or beliefs. 28 Days Later does state this, but it also delves deeper into the motivations for violence, exploring justifiable violence. In the case of Jim his actions are credible because from the audience’s viewpoint the protagonists are justified and the soldiers aren’t. The soldiers’ actions are deplorable and the zombies are obviously enemies but the actions Jim implements place him in the same category as the two foes; he becomes what he morally objects to.

I personally object to the death penalty and don’t believe in vengeance but I don’t think Jim’s situation falls into this category. He was placed into a kill or be killed situation; only a few hours before his revenge he was targeted for murder by the soldiers, taken out into a secluded part of the blockade’s forest area and almost assassinated. His motivations – survival – operate outside of a death penalty debate but he still gives agency to vehement actions, placing him alongside the film’s antagonists. Like Barbara (Patricia Tallman) states in the Tom Savini helmed remake of the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, “they’re us; we’re them and they’re us.”

After watching the film I perused the three alternate endings on the disc and was really annoyed; the original ending, where Jim dies in an abandoned hospital, is much better than the sappy finale geared for the moviegoing public. Considering the film’s low-budget (£5 million pounds), I’m surprised Boyle and Fox didn’t take a chance with a grim ending; an ending appropriate for such a violent and harsh film. I understand the symbolism of the film’s final scene, where Jim, Hannah, and Selena create a giant cloth “hello” for military planes to see, and its connection to Jim’s jaunt around post-apocalyptic London in the first act (where he yells, “hello” with Godspeed You! Black Emperor playing underneath), but I felt Boyle’s attempt at a happy ending, especially when compared with the original, bleak ending is trite. It’s odd too, since I really didn’t mind the happy ending when I watched the film but after witnessing the filmmakers’ original intention in the special features I feel differently. I didn’t listed to Boyle’s audio commentary so I can’t state whether it was changed because of audience reaction or because he felt it worked better but I feel leaving the film on such a dour note would’ve worked better and kept with the film’s ambiance.

Once again, Boyle created a solid movie (regardless of my disdain for the ending used) and also incorporates a great score, using Godspeed (as before mentioned) and Brian Eno’s material from the Apollo album amongst other quality compositions. His deviation from the doom and gloom of your traditional zombie fare, where the four travelers raid a grocery store and camp out in a secluded part of the English countryside, makes his film different and enjoyable. This scene developed the characters, demonstrating the difficulties of giving up their former world and making Jim’s embrace of his primal instincts all the more impactful. A small complaint I have regards Boyle’s use of quick cuts, a technique implemented by music video directors and many modern horror filmmakers – making the horror more reliant on editing techniques instead of storytelling. 28 Days Later works as a scary movie, regardless of these methods, but I’ve always felt these are the signs of lazy narratives; maybe 28 Days Later is an exception.

Here is the film’s trailer

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7 responses to “28 Days Later

  1. Thanks for the thanks!

    I loved 28 Days Later the first time I saw it. I can’t have been older than 12 when I saw the film and I suspect it was my introduction to cinematic zombies. The speed and ferociousness of the zombies made for some truly scary and incredibly tense moments. The flat-stairs scene and the iconic tunnel scene spring to mind. I was unaware of the original ending, and having read this, I agree that it’s a shame it was altered to an altogether sappier affair. What was the third alternate ending?

    Mac.

  2. They never shot the other ending so it was only shown as storyboards. However, it involves the group going to the blockade, finding it desolate, and eventually hiding out at a hospital. There they find a guy barricaded in a room reading books. He won’t let the group in and they hang around the hospital trying to convince him otherwise, all the while shooting zombies from the roof of the hospital. Eventually they wear him down, etc., etc., etc. It was nothing spectacular and I understand why they never shot it. From what the audio commentary said they thought about this while in post-production and wanted to go back but it was impossible.

    That original ending, where Jim dies, was much better and fit the film’s motif; other than negative test audience reaction I have no idea why they changed it. Test audiences make me think about Bill Hicks’ rant about Basic Instinct and how all the lesbian sex scenes were cut because “200 random yahoos thought it was distasteful.” I’m sorry, but we’re not all alike and just because a few hundred idiots were offended or wanted a happy ending doesn’t mean everybody else does or it’s good for the work.

    I liked 28 Days Later this time around and it’s the first time I’ve seen it in 7-8 years. The scene in the flat is probably the most intense zombie moment in the film and was really well put together. I also liked how they subsisted on either sugar or painkillers – it seems very realistic and quite comical. I do think calling the virus “Rage” is a little silly and a bit lazy but then again their audience didn’t like a somber ending so I guess Boyle had to pander a little. However, and I’m saying this because I’ve never been across the pond and can’t speak from firsthand experience about you Brits, I thought your kin in the U.K. was brighter than us Americans and can handle a little misery in your cinema. After all, your nation gave us Stanley Kubrick, Ricky Gervais’ depressing original version of The Office, and Virginia Woolf; we gave you M.C. Hammer and Michael Bay. =)

  3. Haha. You’re probably right. If anyone can not only handle, but actively seek a little misery in life it’s us. Personally I’m a big fan of massively grim endings. A Serious Man is one of my favourites. It’s not a very conclusive ending, nor is it really a cliffhanger, but it leaves the fate all the characters hanging precariously in the balance, and leaves you feeling completely lost. The ending of the Coen brother’s No Country… had a similar feel to it.

    The way the filmmakers practically rewrote the ending to I Am Legend was poor too. Rather than the human finally realizing that perhaps it is he who is the monster, it concludes with Will Smith effectively saving the world. Again.

    It’s another example of grim endings being twisted to serve a populace that supposedly prefers happiness. The typical cinema-going blockbuster lovers probably do. But I think the actual film connoisseurs would rather things were more realistic. And unfortunately, real life can be pretty bleak.

    Mac.

  4. Real life can be very bleak. The line, “life is short, life is shit, and soon it will be over,” from Brain Candy is fitting, regardless of the great moments that make life great.

    I felt the same way about I am Legend. I liked how the novel is a post-World War II look at the other – how the other is fashioned and perpetuated. Verhoeven’s adaptation of Starship Troopers does the same thing, lulling the audience into believing they’re siding with the heroes only to realize they’re on the side of fascism. I just read an article about Starship Troopers where the author states, “fascist regimes are constantly defining the enemy; it’s a hallmark trait.”

    Even though I don’t enjoy trite, blissful endings often I see their relevance in large blockbuster films – these movies are for a mass audience who seek out movies as a diversion, not a reflection on being human. Maybe it’s the difference between people who enjoy literature and those who enjoy Tom Clancy books and Twilight; maybe I’m being an elitist snob. There are stories where happy endings are appropriate – Rear Window, the original Star Wars trilogy, etc. – but I generally think of zombie films as bleak explorations of humanity, incapable of a joyful conclusion. Zombies are great antagonists because they can embody whatever social commentary the filmmaker (or in the case of Kirkman’s The Walking Dead – comics) desires. Romero made them into symbols of racism, the other (especially a Soviet, communist other), consumers, terrorists, and so much more; Boyle conveyed the primal, barbaric instincts of humanity with them. These social and political issues don’t usually end happily, instead leaving a medley of unanswered questions about issues people face daily so why leave a zombie film on a high note?

    Personally I like bittersweet endings, like the conclusion to The Seventh Seal, Spartacus, or Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria: those films where it reflects real-life endings, which usually contain both positive and negatives. I thought the original ending for 28 Days Later was of this variety. Although Jim dies, Hannah and Selena have their lives and will remember Jim every time they reflect on their continued survival; his sacrifice wasn’t futile. Unfortunately somebody believed the movie going public is inept and gave the film its commonly known sentimental ending.

  5. Pingback: Plastic Promises & Hollywood Happiness | Anti-Bandwagon Propaganda

  6. bostadamerica

    hepinizin anasının amına koyum 28 ay sonra çıktı lan gerizekalılar mallar öküzler bostadlar siktirinlan yavaşka amerikalılar fuck you america

    Translation, thanks to Google (an American company): Put the man out after 28 months of y’all mother fuckin Idiots goods oxen bostadlar siktirinlan yavaşka Americans. fuck you america

    What?

    While I’m thankful for the comments, I’m not sure what exactly our Turkish friend here is saying. Maybe the public education in Turkey is substandard. I can’t speak from experience but I remember that part in Midnight Express where Turkish people in prison don’t ass rape each other but instead mentally torture and bludgeon their fellow inmates. Maybe I should write a piece on Midnight Express, conveying my desire to never end up in a Turkish prison. I hear the hashish is excellent but everything else is rotten, especially everybody’s teeth.

    Secondly, I’d like to address your lack of proper capitalization. Last time I checked proper nouns are capitalized. Now I understand not wanting to capitalize America (since America already has a superiority complex unparalled by any other nation in recent history) but I think I’d knock points off if this was a thesis statement. Also, I’m not sure what oxen have to do with 28 Days Later, America (and your disdain for it), or my blog. I heard once it’s legal to marry various farm animals in Turkey (it was also almost legal in Texas once) but that source was pretty disreputable.

    Now I’ll leave you with a picture of a cat.

    How can anybody hate this cat?

  7. Pingback: Plastic Promises & Hollywood Happiness | SquabbleBox.co.uk – Entertainment Under Attack

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