28 Days Later (2002)

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*. I hate this movie. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad, because hating a movie means something different than thinking it simply sucks. But I do hate it.
*. What I hated about it was the sheer stupidity and waste. Which begins with the wretched screenplay by Alex Garland.
*. When the movie came out I remember the widespread opinion “on the street” was that it started off well and had a terrible ending. In fact, it has a very strong introduction, with Jim wandering the empty streets of London. And then it falls apart completely.
*. The DVD comes with three — count ’em three! — “alternate endings.” One of these is quite radically different, without any of the business with the military base out in the country.
*. Now let me say this: When a movie has three endings, it has none. It means — if you can believe it (and you should believe it, as remarkable as it seems, because it does happen) — that they got this project rolling without any idea what movie they were going to end up making.
*. Then there is the stupidity. You can dress it up as much as you want, but this is a pure idiot plot. Things happen either by random accident or because the characters behave like total morons.
*. What does Jim want to do when he’s just been chased through deserted London by bloodthirsty maniacs and then been told what’s going on? Why, go see his mum and dad of course! No point telling him that this is a very bad idea, because you see he just has to do it. So everyone goes off together so we can have that little episode play out.
*. By the way, Jim was a bike courier before the Rage struck. So why don’t these survivors ride bikes around town? Wouldn’t that make more sense?
*. I also like how Jim just glances at the headlines of the newspapers about the outbreak of the plague and then tosses them aside. Sure they might help him find out what’s happening but . . . the stories are probably too long, and he doesn’t want to be bothered.
*. More stupidity: Why does Jim go into the restaurant, alone, at the gas bar? Because, while it’s true they already have food, they don’t have any cheeseburgers! OK, there’s another scary scene added to the plot. This screenwriting business is easy!

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*. But by far the stupidest episode is the tunnel scene. Of course everyone agrees it’s an idiotic idea to try to go through the tunnel (which would in fact be impossible to get through even with a more formidable vehicle than the cab they’re in). But . . . what the hell, why not? And so there you have another scary scene courtesy of everyone behaving like idiots.
*. Boyle recognized that the tunnel scene was a horror cliché (down to them getting a flat tire), but was of the opinion that you must never be afraid of clichés because they’re very enjoyable. That’s why they’re clichés. I guess. In fairness, it’s the scariest scene in the movie.
*. Random accident also plays a role. We are introduced to Frank and Hannah only because they’ve got lights blinking in their apartment window. Problem solved. And as for how Frank gets infected with the Rage virus, well . . . I guess somebody thought it was a good idea at the time.
*. This isn’t really screenwriting at all. As the business with the different endings suggests, they were just making it up as they went along. On the commentary Boyle makes an interesting point when he says “we had lots of rules for the infected which we basically thought were terribly important and then ignored whenever we wanted” (like the Infected not coming out as much during the day). Garland: “We took lots of liberties with the things we set up for ourselves.”

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*. Where are all the guns? There are none because it’s England! They don’t have guns! But where are all the cars? There’s still gas around, even at the gas stations (there must be because we see one blow up). Ah, but Boyle explains in the commentary that they’ve put “all” the cars in the tunnel! Apparently there was a “huge” pile-up that ate all of the cars in England!
*. Where are all the bodies? According to Garland it was “sort of atmosphere and surrealism over plot requirements really. It’s like an aesthetic decision, I suppose. . . there’s not really a good logical reason in storytelling terms, it’s just because it feels more interesting and hopefully that’s a legitimate reason.” Hm. Good answer.
*. It’s interesting that they went the way of providing a quasi-medical explanation for having zombies but then didn’t make use of the obvious justification for cannibalism (they need to eat something). Even the chained-up black guy who is supposed to be starving to death doesn’t eat his kills when he gets loose. And so these aren’t cannibal zombies. Also: Why don’t they fight each other? Why do the uninfected make them mad? I take it the virus is totally in control, urging them to infect others. Perhaps the newspapers no one reads might have explained this. Apparently at one point the idea was to turn the infected into “raging erections,” or sex maniacs (at least the male ones). Which wouldn’t have made sense either but might have been more fun.

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*. Given that Rage is just a virus anyway, why would the Infected take longer to starve to death than anyone else? If anything their metabolism seems to have sped up.
*. Or maybe it just looks like they’re going fast. The jumpy editing suits the sugar-high diet of the audience and the stars, who keep themselves going on chocolate bars and soda pop. How long before a human being starves to death on that? Now there’s an interesting question.
*. By the way. Some people get quite exercised when you call this a zombie film. These aren’t the living dead, after all. They’re just infected with a virus. Which is technically true but . . . this is a zombie film. There are nods to Romero throughout and the basic mythic template is all in place.
*. I’ll admit, I’m getting old. But what with the crazy editing, the digital photography (which has less resolution than film), and the deicision to shoot the Infected at a different frame setting, I had a lot of trouble seeing what was going on during the action sequences.

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*. We begin with television shots of rioting and anarchy. This is the same introduction used in the Dawn of the Dead remake. I guess the point is to make the movie seem “political” or an “allegory.” Before there was Rage, there was rage. I call bullshit. Please tell me what sort of deeper political meaning all of this has (or what the point is of forcing the chimp to watch it). Are the lower orders getting out of line?
*. “It started as rioting . . . ” Huh? However the people infected with Rage act out, it can hardly be mistaken for rioting. Nor does it seem to have started in “small villages.”
*. No, this is what happens when Europe plunges into Third World status: the opening riot scenes were mainly taken from footage of various failed state meltdowns, the money in the streets was inspired from a photo of Phnomh Penh after the fall of Pol Pot, the board of notices came from Beijing, the church filled with bodies from Rwanda, the dead in the diner is a reference to the Kurds gassed by Saddam Hussein, the execution in the forest was inspired by events in Bosnia.
*. The prologue strikes a conservative note. The natives are revolting. And who’s responsible for letting the virus loose? A bunch of hippy, animal-rights do-gooders.
*. Jim’s waking up in hospital bed is taken from Day of the Triffids, though I don’t recall either Boyle or Garland referencing this in their commentary. The same curtain-raiser is used in Kirkman’s Walking Dead serial, for what it’s worth. I think it’s just laziness.

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*. Why doesn’t Jim get infected in the scene where the one Rager crashes into his house? He’s splattered in blood all over his face, and is screaming throughout (i.e., his mouth is wide open). Later, a drop in the eye is enough to do the trick. The script seems to realize the improbability by having Selena ask him “Did you get any in your mouth?” Come on. There’s no way he could have avoided it.
*. There’s another example of dialogue being used to paper over what is an obvious bit of silliness when the Major explains how defensible a position the Great House occupies. There’s “flat terrain around the house” and various walls, etc. Whatever. I don’t see why flat terrain is a good thing. The house is surrounded by woods. I don’t see what use the walls are doing either, as they’re so far out they can’t be seen from the house and the Infected have no trouble getting past them. And the house itself is full of large windows even on the ground floor. It’s a ridiculous place to hold out against zombies in, though it may have some symbolic meaning. Is this the 0.01% holding out in their manor against the lower classes?
*. The shopping expedition has been a staple of the genre since The Last Man on Earth, and certainly since Dawn of the Dead. As I mentioned in my notes on that film, there’s something infantilizing about this, and here we see another example of that as the team of survivors seems to mentally regress as soon as they hit the aisles of free goodies. The nadir of this idea (at least thus far) comes in Zombieland. I don’t want to see any more of it.
*. I like strong women in these roles, though they can have the effect of unmanning the male leads. This is quite pronounced in Day of the Dead, where Sarah is a Ripley-style action heroine and her boyfriend Miguel is a total wimp. Things start off the same way here, with Jim’s totally irritating “Wait for me, Selena!” as she races ahead of him up the stairway. But then the roles are dramatically reversed when Selena becomes a rape target decked out in ridiculous formalwear while Jim has to strip to the waist to rescue her.

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*. The coda is just silly. Where did they get so many sheets? Why use sheets in the first place? Why spell such a stupid message? Why such a long message (“Hello”)? Why not Help? Why not SOS?
*. As I began by saying, it’s not all bad. Danny Boyle’s direction is lively. A lot of the production looks nice. But the best part of the movie is Jim’s exploration of deserted London (that is, the first ten or fifteen minutes), and after that it very quickly turns into a stupid mess.

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