28 Days Later falls somewhere in between. What it is? An oddity among horror movies with a bit of science fiction thrown in. I'm not sure what to make of it though, and even now I'm not positive how much I liked and/or disliked about it.
A virus has gotten loose in England, turning normal everyday people into raving, murdering psychotic lunatics that seemingly cannot be stopped. Some 28 days after the outbreak, a man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital bed to find a world unlike anything he's ever seen. The streets of London are completely empty like the people have been swept away. He's attacked by several infected people and barely survives thanks to Selena (Naomie Harris). They also meet Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his teenage daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns). On the radio, they hear a looped message about an army unit to the north holding out and surviving. Could there be more survivors? It may be a pipe dream, but they can only hold out for so long in London and decide to make the dangerous journey.
For coherent purposes, let's say this. Fans/haters debate whether this is a zombie movie because it's a virus and not a product of some bizarre quasi-apocalypse. I will be calling it a zombie movie because....well....I can't think of a better description. Is it possible for a zombie movie to be an art-house zombie movie? If so, director Danny Boyle accomplished it here. This is most assuredly not a run-and-gun, kill hundreds of zombie type movie, far from it. It instead focuses on a small group of survivors in a ravaged world occasionally running into zombies. The musical score is great, featuring some indie rock (including THIS epically appropriate song), the camera angles are different and aggressive, and there is a message to the story in a bizarre way. Don't expect Dawn of the Dead is all I'm saying.
Through this quasi-art house film comes all these different elements. In some truly remarkable set pieces, Boyle creates a whole new, unique world. It's believable watching this movie that there are few people left behind. The opening 15-20 minutes has Murphy's Jim walking through a completely vacant London in some of the coolest, most unsettling shots I've ever watched. To Boyle's credit, as a viewer I felt isolated. Can you imagine that setting, exploring a world you know well but it isn't quite that world? There is an emotional depth, an emotional quality to this movie that surprised me. Extreme fear and terror, complete isolation, looking for a reason to survive, it's all there. One scene has the small group trying to fix a flat tire as a dozen or so infected people sprint at them. Creepy much? A perfect chase scene that will assuredly get the blood pumping and the adrenaline flowing.
So why then with all these positives do I feel like I'm missing something? Reviews were almost uniformly positive, Netflix thought I would 'Really Like' it, and I typically go for movies like this. The little things I can put my finger on? Boyle films with video, producing a grainy, amateurish look that I didn't go for. He also uses the ultra-fast editing technique where any scene with movement is just a blur. But more than those things -- which I can go along with if I'm enjoying a movie -- is that I was disappointed with where the story went. There are moments where you're glued to your seat wanting and needing to know what comes next, and then whole scenes that lack any energy, killing the momentum that was just built up moments before. The ending too disappoints, a different tone from the whole rest of the movie. The DVD offers several better, darker finales.
With this low budget movie featuring a small cast, there are only 15 or 20 speaking roles in the entirety of the 113 minute long movie. Murphy is all right as Jim, supposed to be an everyman of sorts but lacking any real personality. Harris and Gleeson are the best things going here. Harris' Selena is a survivor who learned quick how to preserve her own life no matter how drastic or gruesome the measures are. Gleeson is a single father looking out for his daughter above all else. Christopher Eccleston plays Major West, the leader of a small group of soldiers holding out for the present and hopefully much longer into the future.
So all in all, some major positives and a few glaring negatives. The movie is good, no doubt about that, but I still came away disappointed. I did like it, but there was the potential to love it. Interested enough to see the sequel though, 2007's 28 Weeks Later.
28 Days Later <---trailer (2002): ** 1/2 /****