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  28 Days Later
Danny Boyle, UK, 2003
Rating: 2.9

Posted: July 02, 2003

28 Days Later
Danny Boyle, UK, 2003
Rating: 2.9

Finally! While Laurence Station is fixing his MP3 player, and Kevin Moreau is installing a new security system to protect himself from disgruntled Pearl Jam fans, I, Clemenza, get my shot at prime time. I always knew this day would come. Though in all honesty, I thought I'd have to push Station down some stairs, or at least try out some voodoo mind-control maneuvers on Moreau to speed my opportunity along. But here's my chance to graduate from B-movie limbo. If I screw this up, it's back to the Jeff Speakman film festival for me. Ah, well, all good things come to those who wait, right?

Well, if you're waiting for a top-notch apocalyptic horror movie from the director of Trainspotting, however, you may have to wait a bit longer.

Let's consider exactly what Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later is. What it's not, I can tell you with some relief, is a sequel to the Sandra Bullock rehab chick flick 28 Days. (Yeah, I know, that was a close one.) What it is, is a suspenseful film packed with all the key ingredients necessary to knock it out of the park. Take a little Dawn of The Dead, add a pinch of The Omega Man, and lightly sprinkle with some bits of Day Of The Dead, and you'll start to get the idea of where we're at here. The story begins with a group of animal rights do-gooders who decide to liberate some primates from a lab. But these primates are infected with a blood-borne "rage" virus, and upon release they infect their liberators, who in turn infect others, who in turn...Well, anyway, it takes about 28 days of this to bring the world as we know it to a screeching halt. Streets are littered with corpses and wrecked automobiles, while stores and homes are abandoned. The "infected" mutants roam the deserted cities in search of victims. But lest you think you've seen this flick before, these are not the kind of zombie antagonists who stumble about clumsily. These infected baddies here can, and do, haul some serious ass. This has to be the ultimate terror, right? Not really.

That's because, for some inexplicable reason, 28 Days Later never plays the hand it was dealt. One almost gets the sense that it goes to the trouble of intentionally drawing parallels between it and George Romero's classic zombie yarns (Dawn Of The Dead and Day Of The Dead), and then turns its back and tries to proceed with a larger " human" theme of the savagery that man must exhibit to his fellow man in order to survive. That's a great theme, don't get me wrong, but here it's achieved at the expense of what I dare to suggest most customers plopping down eight bucks for a ticket will likely be expecting, if not craving -- a horror flick. Despite all its hype, 28 Days Later just isn't scary. Sure, it has flashes of brilliance, such as when the "infected" storm a stronghold defended by British soldiers: the invaders are blown apart by land mines and cut down by machine gun fire as they try to claw through the humans' defenses. Had the movie started here, and played to the strengths of the story, we might have had something to work with.

Proponents of the film will suggest that the struggle of our protagonist Jim (Cillian Murphy) and his associates is the strength of the story; I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. And from where I was beholding, this was an excellent chance to make a great horror movie, one that went off the tracks because it's afraid to be what it should have been. I don't want to make direct comparisons to Romero's zombie films, but in them he's able to display man as his own greatest threat while still exploiting the zombie aspect for its full horrific potential. In 28 Days Later, the "infected" monsters are little more than a backdrop to chart the de-evolution of the main character into his most primal self.

But it strikes me that I, too, am now guilty of the same offenses perpetrated by this film. I have tried to make this review more "high brow" (really now, I can't recall the last time I used the word "de-evolution") to better suit my front-page billing. Allow me to atone for my hypocrisy by sharing some observations that seem more in line with my niche here at Shaking Through.

First we get full frontal nudity from our hero Jim. Then we get to see his bare ass twice. Twice? This I don't need. Kudos, then, to the blood-vomiting of the infected mutants. It's not quite as captivating as the fluid vomiting in Prince Of Darkness, but it's vomiting nonetheless, and we should be grateful. Meanwhile, I must admit that I'm a bit perplexed by exactly what it is the mutants do to you if they catch you. If they tear you to pieces, I guess you're just dead. If they bite you or vomit blood into some orifice, then you become infected. But if they're infected with uncontrollable rage, would they not stop until you were dead? Lastly, no offense to my British brothers, but there's nothing in this film that Steven Seagal could not have brought to a swift conclusion. Then again, that's true of most things.

So what have we learned? If one gears up for a full-scale horror flick, then 28 Days Later is likely to be a disappointment. If, however, one is willing to accept that the most appealing features of the story will be used as a canvas to paint the human struggle, then things won't be nearly as bad. No matter how you approach it, you'll probably leave the theater with the feeling that 28 Days Later left a lot on the table, and what was left untouched was the main course.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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