28 Days Later
There was a moment early in the airless 28 Days Later when I knew that the movie was going to be something special — one of those little expert touches that tells you the filmmakers understand the power of the material and are in complete control of it. Jim has gone home after emerging from a coma. Since the bike accident that sent him to the hospital, most of London’s population has been evacuated, driven out by a fast-spreading virus that turns people into ravenous cannibals. He finds his parents in their bedroom. They’ve killed themselves and left him a note: “Don’t wake up.” It’s a devastating moment, completely unexpected, that finds the humanity in what should be a derivative, routine horror movie. (It’s not technically a zombie movie, but it sure acts like one.) There’s another equally effective moment later, when a falling drop of blood audibly took the air out of the audience.
Some critics have faulted the movie’s third act — in which the three surviving protagonists take refuge in a military bunker before realizing that protection from the infected carries a big price tag — but I found it compelling, although a bit difficult to follow because of the way the movie was lit, shot, and edited. (Director Danny Boyle used digital video for the film, and the images are frequently muddy as a result.) There’s the suggestion at the beginning of the movie that one might become inflected by this “rage virus” not through bodily fluids but through exposure to violence, or perhaps that the virus is activated by violent images. And while he never gets the virus in his blood, Jim begins to show symptoms; he was once soft, meek, and hesitant to even handle a weapon, but he becomes as cold and brutal as the infected, and his friends aren’t sure what he’s capable of. The spare but rich script by Alex Garland is full of no-win situations in which characters must make difficult choices very quickly. It might just be the best and most involving horror movie since Rosemary’s Baby.