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Danny Boyle is a director that I am not overly familiar with. While I have heard of his previous movies and even seen one or two of them, he isn’t somebody that I would ordinarily consider a great filmmaker. 28 Days Later, while heavily flawed, has given me an opportune insight into this Manchester born director.

Film
Opening with the Fox Searchlight logo you’re immediately informed that this film is going to be a low-key affair. The next thing you see is the deliberate unfolding montage, which I feel is really a good way to open this movie. It shows what eventually echoes throughout this entire picture; humans killing humans. The gritty news-like footage shows riots, killings and poverty amongst many other disturbing things. Unfortunately the succeeding sequence feels rather stilted and in my opinion not entirely plausible. While I think the concept is exemplary, I think its execution is rather mundane. The ape strapped to the table surrounding the monitors (infected with the ‘Rage’ virus) and supposedly concealed in an underground laboratory felt marginally farfetched. It only gets worse when the intruding anti-vivisection activists are caught by the scientist and thus bringing about the release of the viral agent. It all makes for a decent but disbelievingly lacklustre curtain raiser. While viral infections and outbreaks of this nature can happen in any mammal, I think it would have been more fitting to base the story around warfare rather than science.

28 Days Later
That said however, the film only gets better from here. In fact the succeeding sequence, where Jim opens his eyes for the first time since the outbreak I feel would have been a better place to start the movie. It would have given it more mystery, more of an ominous wonder. At the end of the day the opening doesn’t entirely make sense if the rhythm of the movie is taken into account. 28 Days Later (for the majority of its runtime) is based around the characters, not around third-party happenings and goings on. I guess Boyle thought that the audience needed to know how the outbreak happened. Still, it would have been nice to see it without that enlightenment firmly in place.

The performances here are mostly commendable. Cillian Murphy (Jim), Naomie Harris (Selena) Brendan Gleeson (Frank) and Christopher Eccleston (Major Henry West) all gave knockout performances, but more that one of the actors in the movie should have been re-cast. Megan Burns (Hannah) who plays the child of Frank delivers some cringe worthy monologue and mostly dry acting, as do some of the soldiers. The performances that mattered shone which is the important thing but when the acting slumped it did so with a reckoning thud.

For a low budget movie the effects are jaw dropping to say the least. The way the effects team managed to make London look like an evacuated ruin with floating litter, upturned busses and clear streets made for some inspiring moments. The rest of the effects that are dotted around the movie are decent but the scenes in London will probably go on to find a place in cult cinema history. The shopping scene was fun and brought a well earned smile to my face, something which was both needed and felt natural at that stage in the story. The occasional scare that trots along from time to time is only the more gripping due in part to the pace of the action. The ‘infected’ are able to run after their pray and the subway sequence had me biting my nails with anxiety, as did the chase up the stairwell. While I personally think some of these scenes could have been more elaborately filmed, Boyle’s choice of handheld cameras spread more personality into the action. Scarily after a certain amount of time elapses the movie seems to have an embroidered tension built into its core making it seem unpredictable and ambient.

I will say one thing for the directing and cinematography style here; it’s very intimidating. Boyle uses twisted camera angles and stark scenery throughout. All this is aided by the use of DV cameras as opposed to the traditional 16mm or 35mm celluloid. I only have one problem here and that would be its eventual overuse. The scenes in London are amongst the best in the movie and the washed-out and diluted look to the city intertwines almost poetically with the emotions of Jim at the time. It all works brilliantly until the departure from London where it soon wears thin and often becomes a slight annoyance. Those who crave sharp images and crisp scenery might be slightly muted from this point onwards. It also seems to lose some of its creative whip which is unfortunate, but for what its worth it still manages to serve the goods.

28 Days Later
For all it seems I am slating the film, I have to confess I did actually enjoy it. It was focused on the human side of this crisis and not on the monsters as most zombie or creature features often do. At times there was such a raw emotion and the odd tear-jerking moment was thrown in for good measure. A great example of this would undoubtedly be the arrival at Jim’s parent’s house. I found myself in awe of how Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle shot the scene, using a drenched mellow lighting for mood and atmosphere. The image of Jim standing over his parent’s bed (both having committed suicide) is a powerful and unforgettable moment. There are many of these affecting moment peppered throughout the movie; it even gets to a point where the raw genius of the story and presentation heads towards classic status. But with all this creativity and style there had to come a downfall and the ending certainly delivered this tumble.  

The only way I can describe the last act would be to call it shameful. It goes so far in perverting the delicate intricacies laid down in the first hour that it ruins what could have been a stunningly original film. The pointless skirmish dealing with the sex-starved troops was both uninspiring and not one bit intriguing. It takes another turn for the worst when Jim suddenly turns into an action hero, indirectly taking out most of the regime with bucket loads of clichés. Talking about cliché, the first hour of the movie does an exemplary job of avoiding them and actually gives the characters purpose. They’re given Purposes to be angry, purposes to have the tormented notions that they have. The last act seems to forget this and seems blissfully ignorant of its own ability and confidence. Regardless of that it still had some good moments; the rain soaked fight and the shot of the airplane in the sky were meliorating enough to pull it though to the end credits.

28 Days Later is no Hollywood glamorisation, that much is clear. It’s a gritty and often startling take on the genre that still manages to lift itself head and shoulders above most other horror movies. That’s the catch with this movie however, it isn’t just a horror flick it’s a movie about characters. If you’re seeking thrills and edge-of-your seat suspense then 28 Days Later might disappoint. It packs little in the way of scares, but ups its ante with atmosphere and dilemma. The last act may knock your more than a little nauseous but by that time Boyle and the many noteworthy actors have drawn you so deeply into its story that you might not even care. Boyle dared to do something different with 28 Days Later and for the most part he succeeded.

28 Days Later
Video
Danny Boyle purposefully used DV camera’s in the making of 28 Days Later. Images are gritty, sometimes unfocused and almost always dirty. Most of the shots are drenched of colour and the scenes in London in particular are extremely diluted and drained. If Boyle hadn’t used steady-cams in most of the major shots then 28 Days Later would have looked like the twin sister of The Blair Witch Project. Of course this was the purpose and intention of the movie. It wasn’t supposed to be clean and crisp; it was meant to look washed-out and represent a low budget feel. The result? It works for the movie, but you might not be impressed if you’re expecting a state of the art transfer. The state of gloom and atmosphere created by the use of DV was an audacious and a well chosen move but it may fend off those looking for pristine images. Still, not every movie should look picture-perfect and I salute Boyle for putting his creativity and vision over modern ‘say-so’ trends.

Audio
Sporting only a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack 28 Days Later might come off as a barebones disc in the audio department, but fear not—the sound delivers for the most part. With many heavy dialogue scenes throughout, this was always going to be about the centre channel rather than the lower end. Sure enough this is the case and the audio is pleasant if a bit quiet at times. There’s a good use of directional audio during the action scenes but on the whole the sound feels somewhat restrained and loose. At the end of the day the audio is good enough and complements the picture side of the DVD subtlety enough so that they balance each other out nicely.

Extras
Being a single disc release and having reasonably good picture and audio components, there’s only so much you can squeeze onto the remaining space. 20th Century Fox have dished out some pretty good extras but I found that they were merely adequate rather than deeply informative.

The audio commentary with Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland was a bit disappointing and often felt timid, but it delivered some interesting titbits regardless. There were a few too many jokes between the commentators for my liking, which often felt off topic and averting. Not unlike many commentaries these days it was nothing special and certainly not one to study for wannabe filmmakers.

Next up is the alternative ending. Presented in storyboard format with commentary from Boyle you get insight into what could have been but wasn’t. This ending was never shot but Boyle fully iterates why it wouldn’t have worked.

The deleted scenes deepen the story further and the optional commentaries add nice touches into their removal. You also get the two minute alternate ending which is an amendment of the theatrical finale. Personally, I didn’t think it was neither better nor worse than the final version, but it was still nice to have it bundled in with the package.

28 Days Later
The best feature on the disc is arguably the documentary, Pure Rage: The Making of 28 Days Later. With its smooth talking scientists and bio-terrorism talk it might well scare you to death, but it’s highly informative and often startlingly eye-opening.

Finally, you get the usual torrent of marketing trailers and even the music video for ‘Jacknife Lee’ which is a select listening experience to be honest.

On the whole the extras are just decent, nothing more, nothing less. You basically get what you pay for with this DVD set and you learn a modest amount about the film and its ideas in the process. I almost forgot to mention the extra cool looking Amaray case. It’s blood-red which blends beautifully with the red artwork that populates both sides of the cover.

Overall
If a horror movie with charming characters and a concept that ranks among the best of them isn’t enough to turn you on, then I don’t know what will. 28 Days Later might be an acquired taste for those seeking thrills and suspense but it’s an overly solid flick that, while flawed is something everyone should probably see at least once.


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