Thursday, October 25, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 25

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

133. 28 Days Later (2002- dir. Danny Boyle)

28 days after getting creamed by an oncoming car, bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a London hospital. He returns to the streets to find them deserted by all but a clutch of red-eyed maniacs intent on nothing but dismembering him. When he runs into the slightly more amenable Selena (Naomie Harris), Jim learns what went down in his absence, and it isn’t pleasant. The film most responsible for the ‘00s zombie revival isn’t really a zombie movie. The monsters in 28 Days Later aren’t walking corpses but “infectants”: living folks suffering from a bad case of “the rage virus.” Despite the medical explanation for their monstrousness and their un-zombie-like speed, the infectants are certain progeny of Romero’s living dead. Director Danny Boyle makes this clear with a shopping-spree scene that can only be viewed as an homage to Dawn of the Dead and the military criticism that is inseparable from that of Day of the Dead. Indeed, two-thirds into the movie the infectants are portrayed as the reluctant monsters they are and a company of soldiers take their place as the film’s true villains. These guys don’t need any virus to display the rage, violence, decadence, stupidity, paranoia, and desperation to remain in control that sustains them. Justifying their plan to rape Selena and teenage Hannah (Megan Burns) as a means to perpetuate the human race springs from the same logic as murdering civilians to counter terrorism. Boyle’s disgust with his soldiers is palpable, and though they drive our hero Jim to an act of repellent violence, the director does believe humanity is worth saving. 28 Days Later also mirrors Day of the Dead with its last minute ray of hope. It’s a welcome twist since Jim, Selena, Hannah, and her dad Frank (Brendan Gleeson), our band of survivors, are essentially good people who care about each other in a world that— as the bloody opening montage reminds us— had been out of control for a lot longer than the past 28 days. Boyle’s use of crude digital photography lends a degree of realism to the proceedings, even as he mines nightmares with his jarring edits, odd angles, and weird split screens, as when a man’s mouth floats in the upper corner of the frame as the camera lingers on the London skyline. 28 Days Later ignited a new strain of zombie films that ranged from the wonderful (Shaun of the Dead) to the abysmal (its own sequel 28 Weeks Later), even making way for Romero to get back on the zombie bus with Land of the Dead in 2005. For that alone it would be one of the most important horror films of the new decade, even if few of its own progeny rose to its quality. 

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 2000s here.
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