For most of us cinephiles, we remember the first time we saw a movie, whether it be in the theater, or at home. If the film shakes you, positively or negatively, there’s a residue left that creeps into your memory and makes it challenging to let go. Well, I don’t want to- so I’m going to highlight some Kristy horror history for this wonderful, special, month of October.
I don’t think there’s a single film in my life that hasn’t left an imprint. My love of film is a pattern, sown into my experiences and my appreciation for this wonderful art form. It’s become a rich tapestry that is continuously growing and expanding, and… will, until my last breath.
When I was a teenager (yep, dating myself) I saw 28 Days Later in theaters. It was a last minute decision, and it is one that I am still grateful for. This film unexpectedly reinvigorated my love for the genre during a time that felt thirsty for innovation. When I got home (later than I was supposed to) I woke my parents up and exclaimed my joy for this film. While they weren’t impressed with my exuberance at that hour, they could sense the love coming out of me.
What can go wrong when a group of activists attempt to break out chimps from cages? Oh right… absolute havoc and world-ending consequences.
Is that all?
In a world of zombies (yes, technically, they are infected but, basically, inherently, zombies) movies, be: unexpected, daring, and be intelligent. Allegories in horror are obviously incredibly common, but they are not all effective. 28 Days later is impressively written, directed, and acted, with a score that makes this tension-filled discovery that much more intense. Add to it some thought-provoking takes that spiderweb into the whole bloody mess? Golden.
Directed by Danny Boyle, written by Alex Garland, and with the powerful cast of Jim (Cillian Murphy) Selena (Naomie Harris) and Frank (Brendan Gleeson), this film highlights the best and worst of humanity when under the pressure of apocalyptic themes.
When Jim wakes up in the hospital, alone and confused (much like Rick in The Walking Dead) he’s exposed to a terrifying and seemingly-empty reality, in the stark new world of London- post the worst circumstances one can imagine. He’s soon thrust into acknowledging the dire existence at play, as he discovers that most beings… want to devour him.
The infected aren’t the slow, plodding type of the past, they are fast and intense, making split decisions pulse with the power of eternity, made in the expectation of a moment.
“That was longer than a heart beat”
Underlining the obvious fear that permeates every moment of 28 Days Later, there’s a sense of finding connection and even, love, amid challenging circumstances. Just because so much of the population has lost their humanity, acting on their “it” instinct, doesn’t mean one should forget what drives us as a species, and what makes us…us. The bonds that we make, even in the most difficult, dire of times, and the decisions we are forced to, should never ruin us, but rather give opportunity for growth and continual improvement.
Of course, as any film that touches on the worst of humankind, it shows the poor choices we can make. So, when our leads seek protection and hope from a military base, things should go well, right?
Major Henry West (Christoper Eccleston), as the head of the battalion, ends up exuding a real menace. Primarily, because he seems to trick even the audience at first, with his grand intentions, and our yearning for comfort in the familiar, protective government entities. But, as any of the most ill-conceived of us have been, it is misguided. It shows us how sometimes the real evil has been in us all along, waiting for an opportunity to just spring into action, and show our true colors.
This was where my real appreciation for Cillian Murphy began. In 28 Days, he humanizes the already sympathetic Jim, because his reactions and strength – in a lot of ways- is what we’d hope for ourselves in such an impossible situation. He isn’t the quintessential hero, and isn’t by any means “special” which makes him even more so. Yes, Alex Garland, you knew what you were doing. See Ex Machina next.
When you throw in the familial vibes with the survivors that he meets, emphasizing the common idea in films of connection, there’s a tether that is instinctually rootable. The character relationships and drama that supersedes even the more horrifying of conceits, is reason enough to appreciate Boyle’s take. There are also some lovely moments of awe woven throughout, of love, hope, and the beauty of the little things, that teeters on poetic.
The editing and cinematography really gets to the grit and terror of the story. It’s grainy, shaky, frenetic at times, ensuring you feel the panic and dread that’s overpowering throughout. Nobody is ever really safe, and nothing can be taken for granted. It’s a lesson learned in the harshest of ways, but as always, makes you appreciate the moments of wonder and joy when they can still be had. There’s a sense of realism captured that sets this apart from big blockbuster zombie fare. As we are immersed into the action, as in the dark as Jim, it becomes a narrative that doesn’t let up. Also, Naomie Harris is badass.
There’s a lot of creativity at play here that utilizes past iterations of the sub-genre, paying homage while instilling a new way to speak to this way of storytelling. 28 Days Later isn’t the best horror ever, but it manages to spark a fire that still burns nearly 20 years later. If you haven’t seen it, give it a watch, let it get under your skin and simmer, for at least, 28 days to come.