By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
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Working from a screenplay by novelist Alex Garland, Boyle's filmhis first to see stateside release since the ill-fated, Leo-starring adaptation of Garland's bestselling The Beachisolates a robust strain of undead horror in a classic post-apocalyptic scenario. As the title suggests, the four weeks of contagion, panic, and death take place off-camera. 28 Days Later's omega man, Jim (newcomer Cillian Murphy), wakes from a coma to find London deserted but for a few distressing telltale signs: overturned double-deckers, newspaper headlines ("EVACUATION!"), wads of useless money, and most harrowing of all (not least for a New York audience), a makeshift memorial of missing-person flyers.
That scene was shot before the WTC attacks (it was actually based on photos from the 1995 Kobe earthquake), and Boyle says he was so unnerved to subsequently see near-identical images in Lower Manhattan that he considered editing it out. Garland says the viral dread of recent months has left him queasy about promoting the film: "I'm uncomfortable that we might effectively be selling it on a series of very unfortunate coincidences. But if we released it in 1985, it would have been HIV. In 1920, it could have been syphilis or polio. It's not like anything has substantially changed. People get incredibly zoned in, understandablyI do tooand they perceive something as new when it isn't."
Indeed, as a genre exercise, 28 Days Later is not so much timely as timelessa canny mash-up of horror tropes, many of them from George Romero movies (Day of the Dead and The Crazies in particular). Garland also notes the importance of British influences: John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids ("every schoolboy reads it") and J.G. Ballard's catastrophic surrealism. "We were often aiming for atmosphere and scenic coherency at the expense of logic," says Garland. "That's also a rationalization, of course, because it was sometimes budgetary concerns. When Jim's walking through London, we didn't fill up the place with dead bodies and abandoned cars, partly because it's more atmospheric and partly because we couldn't afford to."
At a cost of just $10 million (digital video, no marquee names), 28 Days Later is geared for maximum profitFox Searchlight is counterprogramming it as a cult item with summer blockbuster potential. It's fitting that the movie is going up against The Hulk's tortured exercise in anger management; Boyle and Garland's virus is simply a concentrated, highly contagious form of ragethe infected turn homicidally rabid within seconds. The "psychological virus" allows Garland to revisit the lofty Nature of Man riffs that he smuggled into The Beach; 28 Days Later concludes, none too surprisingly, that you don't need to be infected to act like a monster. "A zombie film is a good vehicle for certain ideas," he notes. "It stops you from getting too pretentious."
While lofty behemoths like The Hulk and The Matrix wax oedipal and existential, 28 Days Later never neglects its zombie-flick obligations. Boyle gives the attack sequences a savage immediacy. His monsters, barely related to the stiffly lumbering undead of countless old B-movies, move like track athletes. "Zombies have run the whole cultural arcthey're on South Park," says Boyle. "You have to reinvent them, and we had this idea of speed. These video cameras can capture very high-contrast fast motion; they snatch at the image, so you get this slightly unreliable thing coming at you. You can't quite tell how fast it's moving, how quickly it'll be on you."
Not purely a cost-cutting measure here, DV is also a logical aesthetic fit. The degraded images convey a sense of blasted aftermath, and Boyle even encouraged his crew to engage in a bit of role-play. "The idea was that these cameras would survive," he says. "At one point, we were going to have Jim pick up a camera and look back at what someone had recorded. In a funny way, as a crew we could imagine that we were survivors as well, working with minimal equipment." It didn't hurt that said equipment was being wielded by the virtuosic Anthony Dod Mantle, the director of photography on Thomas Vinterberg's Celebration, regarded by many as the most inventive and resourceful of videographers. "He has a real love-hate relationship with the medium," Boyle says of Mantle. "He knows how to get the best out of it because he understands and embraces the limitations."