More than any other genre, horror allows for dissecting some other problem, whether it’s lycanthropy as a metaphor for change, vampirism as a metaphor for sex, or zombies as a metaphor for loss of identity. The best horror movies aren’t just trying to scare you, they’re also trying to talk about a subject, I think. 28 Days Later isn’t the scariest zombie movie by any means, but it’s absolutely one of the best, and I know that’s a really vanilla opinion, but it’s true.
It’s a familiar scene. Waking up in the hospital. There’s no one there. You go outside. No one there. You’re trying to figure out what’s going on, and you have your first encounter with them. You don’t know yet that they are no longer people.
The movie plays with these classic zombie tropes (what do I know, maybe they weren’t so classic 20 years ago), but it takes its time setting up all of the pieces. Cillian Murphy teams up with two people. One is infected, and we get our first scene of how dangerous it is, because Naomie Harris immediately kills the man who was infected. What I find really interesting is that zombies are known for being slow, but this movie released so long ago has fast zombies. Here in Korea, Train for Busan just came out this year, and all of my students were so proud of their Korean zombies being so fast. Admittedly, the zombies in Train to Busan are insanely fast, but I was still surprised to see the speed in this movie. I love the speed though, because it makes every scene that much tenser.
It goes on like this for a while, from scares to tearjerkers, until we finally reach the third act. Christopher Eccleston’s ragtag group of soldiers and their plan to rebuild society. Normalcy. This is where the movie shines so brightly, and it’s something that I mentioned when talking about Paranorman as well.
Society was all but destroyed in just 28 days, and these nine men are there to rebuild it. They’ve built a perfectly-protected bunker, have a zombie tied up for research purposes (I love this bit of Chekhov’s Gun), and its all set. Seems pretty perfect until you realize that Eccleston has promised these men women for the purpose of population growth, and you see that there is no safety, either inside this protected bunker with the people who you think should be protecting you, nor outside with the zombies. That’s where “loss of identity” comes in, because this group of people is a single-minded entity, just like a zombie. They want to restore society, but in a way, society was already bad for so many people before.
In any case, I love the cat-and-mouse play at the end when hell breaks loose. Everyone was great in this movie, and the zombies were so cute. A+ movie, I didn’t even realize it was Danny Boyle until the end. That’s why!