28 Days Later
English Title: 28 Days Later
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: DNA/Fox Searchlight
Director: Danny Boyle
Producer(s): Andrew MacDonald
Screenplay: Alexander Garland
Cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle
Editor: Chris Gill
Runtime: 108 minutes
Jim awakes from a coma in a London hospital to discover the city deserted. A highly-contagious, human-made virus that turns its victims into bloodthirsty creatures has ravaged the entire nation. Jim meets a trio of uninfected survivors and, urged on by a radio broadcast, they flee the metropolis in search of Major Henry West’s outpost in the supposed safety of the countryside. However, West’s sanctuary is not all it appears to be, and Jim soon realizes that the hordes of rabid, cannibalistic creatures have nothing on the savagery of the modern British army at play.
An opening montage of news footage unambiguously places 28 Days Later in a present of urban conflict and ethnic unrest. The virus that devastates Britain is symbolic of the rage that characterizes forms of contemporary existence and is a direct product of contemporary technologies. The film’s naturalistic visual style, reinforced by its uses of digital video and held-hand camera work, fosters a documentary feel, which adds to its sense of immediacy. Like Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend (2007), the BBC's 2009 remake of John Wyndham’s 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids and the 2008 remake of the cult series Survivors (1975–1977), 28 Days Later invokes apocalyptic fears that have lain dormant since the end of the Cold War – nightmares reborn of the events of 11 September 2001.
On 2 October 2001 Tony Blair declared that ‘the kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.’ Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later offers an immediate glimpse of how horribly wrong attempts at reconstruction might go. Its sequel, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later (2007), more clearly announces itself as a critique of the 'war on terror' in its effort to address the subject of military brutality, the failed reconstruction of an occupied zone and the consequent spread of rabid extremism and exportation of terror. Yet, released just over a year after 9/11, Boyle’s original film also raises, and to some extent anticipates, urgent questions about the establishment of a new world order in the wake of an unimaginable catastrophe that the western world has brought upon itself.
Boyle’s film presents a Britain in which the remnants of civilization resort to uncivilized methods of survival. The military officers still dress for dinner, but they starve and torture prisoners to extract information from them. It is not simply that the brutalization of society results from the catastrophe; it is also that the catastrophe has resulted from that long-term process of brutalization otherwise known as civilization. As Christopher Eccleston’s Major Henry West observes: ‘This is what I’ve seen in the four weeks since infection – people killing people. Which is pretty much what I saw in the four weeks before infection and the four weeks before that and before that as far back as I care to remember – people killing people. Which to my mind puts us in a state of normality right now.’ The critical theorist Fredric Jameson suggested that apocalyptic science fiction conceals and yet provides a space for the performance of utopian desires. One may see this phenomenon at play in The Day of the Triffids or Survivors, but Boyle’s grim vision depicts the last vestiges of the civil state – the British military – as torturers, rapists and vicious totalitarians who execute their own and relish the slaughter. There is very little scope for utopia here.
Author of this review: Alec Charles
Peer reviewer: Alec Charles