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28 Days Later (2003)
Rated R

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, and Brendan Gleeson

Rating:
****
out of
*****

Animal activists break into a research lab to free some chimpanzees. Just seconds before they open the first cage, a scientist discovers them and tries to warn them that the chimps have been infected with "rage," a virus that makes them killers. Of course, they don't believe him and release a chimp that promptly attacks and infects them.

28 days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a London hospital. He discovers he's alone. Not only alone in the hospital, but alone in the entire city. As he meanders about town, trying to discover what's happened, he discovers some residents hiding out in a church, but they seem somewhat hungry. Hungry to kill him, that is. As he runs for his life, two non-infected humans -- Mark (Noah Huntley) and Selena (Naomie Harris) -- come to his aid and fend of the attackers. After returning to their makeshift homebase, they're kind enough to explain to Jim (and the viewer) some background. In the 28 days since that chimp escaped its cage, those infected with the virus have overrun civilization. The British government has collapsed and the army has been destroyed. Basically, the world turned upside down and is now crawling with the infected, who simply live to infect others to perpetuate the virus.

I won't detail anything after that encounter. 28 Days Later is about the journey Jim takes trying to survive this terrible ordeal. While it might sound like a horror film, it also strives to do a little more than scare you. It makes you think about what you'd do in the situation -- as films that postulate what might happen if civilization were to disappear overnight often do. It differs from the typical zombie film in that these infected humans don't shuffle around like they've got cement-filled shoes. These buggers can run and they'll hunt down their prey at a full-tilt sprint.

Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) shot the movie on digital video which gives the whole thing a very immediate feel. The script, whether intentional or not, echos other zombie and end-of-the-world films like Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Comet and Day of the Dead. For example, a trip to a supermarket to load up on supplies and the survivors keeping a zombie around for research purposes seem very familiar. What makes 28 Days Later so different from the aforementioned films is the intelligence of the characters and the honest-to-goodness believability of the situations in which they find themselves. For a film that deals with an inhuman menace, there's a lot said about human nature and nature in general.

The only real problem with the film is that as it enters the third act everything starts to unravel and become a bit formulaic. This isn't enough to ruin the film, but keeps it from being as good as I'd have liked it to have been. That said, 28 Days Later is the best horror film of 2003.

Trivia: The exteriors of the streets of London were shot in the early hours of the morning on weekdays. The crew only had a couple of minutes each day, and crew members had to politely ask clubbers not to walk onto the streets. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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