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28 Days Later
Reviewed by Jason Myers, © 2003

Format: Movie
By:   Danny Boyle (director)
Genre:   Horror
Released:   June 27, 2003
Review Date:   June 23, 2003
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

This, to me, is the essence of 28 Days Later: In most horror films (even most of the really good ones), you, as the audience, are just begging for the film-makers to bring on the carnage. Well, about thirty or forty minutes into 28 Days Later, I found myself hoping, ridiculously, that nothing else bad would happen, that the film's characters would, from that point on, live long, healthy, un-traumatic, un-horrifying lives.

Curious (in the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland sense, not the George or cat sense), and therefore good.

The pacing of 28 Days Later is slow, deliberate. Moments that, in most horror movies, would be only brief segues to more action, stretch out into long, languid minutes, become the fabric of the story of 28 Days Later. In fact, opportunities for horror are neglected in favor of characterization. People who were brought up on Jawses, Poltergeists, Nightmare on Elm Streets, Evil Deads, and Screams (nothing against those movies, by the way) might be perplexed, and maybe even bored.

Curious, and therefore good.

28 Days Later is not slick. It eschews even the slow burn intensity of high-quality shockers like The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Mothman Prophecies, and The Ring. The resulting tone is naturalistic, immediate, and insidious.

Curious, and therefore good.

The violence in 28 Days Later is not the gleeful cartoon violence we've grown to love in James Bond movies, Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, and Final Destination and Final Destination 2. Nor is it tasteful less-is-more PG-13 violence, or gore-for-gore's-sake violence. The violence in 28 Days Later is abrupt, unpleasant, dirty, and matter-of-fact.

Curious, and therefore good.

You'll notice that I haven't told you any of the plot or character specifics of 28 Days Later. That's mostly because I'd like you to discover them on your own. But then, how to convince you to see this movie? Well, people who like horror will hopefully already feel curious enough (in the George sense, this time) to check it out. I also recommend 28 Days Later for people whose affection for science fiction stems more from the "what if?" speculative scenarios of than from the science and technology. Also, I have this carrot for people who've seen Trainspotting, which, like 28 Days Later, was directed by Danny Boyle. Trainspotting, for me, was often true, often funny, often unpleasant, and definitely worth the journey. Ditto for 28 Days Later.

28 Days Later will definitely take some movie critic flack because (MINOR THEMATIC SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH) it treads in some territory that's been covered before. Namely that previously explored by Stephen King and George (the Romero kind, not the Curious kind). Of course, neither of them were the ones who invented that territory. Perhaps Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) did. Perhaps there was someone before that.

Yes, there are countless movies that simply rehash what's come before. But as Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet proved, sometimes finding a startling new way of telling an old story can be as much of a revelation as telling a completely original story (if in fact there is such a thing as a completely original story. But that's a horse of a different color).

I wouldn't go so far as to call 28 Days Later an instant classic. And if I called it "brilliant", it would be brilliant the way the Brits use it in casual conversation. However, 28 Days Later is the best horror movie released so far this year, and it's easily among the top ten horror movies of the last five years.
Jason Myers: the curiously strong Film/DVD Editor

 
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