28 Days Later (2003)
108 mins, color, English
Review © 2003 Branislav L. SlantchevIf imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then nothing beats outright stealing. Although never acknowledged, heck, not even mentioned in passing, by the writer Alex Garland (or anyone else on the crew for that matter), the plot of 28 Days Later was stolen shamelessly from John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. It was then trimmed (read 'most interesting and essential parts removed'), updated (read 'stupid superficial injections of feminism and multiculturalism'), zombified (read 'a lot of nonsensical gratuitous violence added'), and Americanized (read 'an entirely unjustified happy ending spoils the parable').
A bunch of no-good animal rights activists break into an experimental facility where evil researchers do to a chimp what evil researchers did to Malcom McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Naturally, there's a bit of a huff when a researcher stumbles across the candid camera party. The end result is that a chimp gets released and promptly bites into one of the animal huggers. Her eyes go red, she spits out a gallon of the red liquid, and we know the world as we know it, is doomed.
28 days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up naked in a hospital to find out that the world as he knew it, has ended. This parallels the opening of Wyndham's story, nakedness and all. He strolls to a violated vending machine and drinks Pepsi. We now know we are in definite horror-film territory. He walks outside and (in a rare moment of writing inspiration) collects some totally useless bills from the street. He is quickly beset by some unfriendly individuals with ungentlemanly intentions but is rescued by two other individuals wielding flame-throwers, who also manage to rig a gas station for a nice little midtown explosion. One of the two rescuers is a woman, Selena (Naomie Harris). The other one is not important because he soon dies, hacked to death by Selena when he gets infected by the crazies.
As in Wyndham's story, the main character soon hooks up with a woman. Of course, this being the 21st century, it would be unseemly for him to rescue her, so Garland reverses the roles in a nod to feminism. (first point of unintentional irony). In an even more pathetic sop to multiculturalism, he makes her black. This is now too obvious to even comment on. According to the film-makers, then, the pinnacle of racial blindness is when the protagonist can fall for the black heroine, and a bunch of soldiers can endeavor to rape her regardless of skin color. It would have been offensive but it was so dumb, one may also sigh and pass on. [Maybe this has something to do with Romero's original zombie flick which also sported a black (man, this time) as the protagonist? But then the guy in Romero's film was resourceful and independent, and Selena only seems that way.]
The unintentional irony? Well, turns out Selena is not that tough. She falls for the disheveled guy rather quickly. She is also in desperate need of protection under all that feminist exterior. In the end, she's just a scared little girl. Wyndham's Josella is not only much more believable, but much stronger too. She admits to being afraid early on but then is more resourceful than her knight-errant and faces the new future with resoluteness that startles him: the whole 'four women per man and many babies' business that shocked the main character in the novel and would have caused mass exodus by brainwashed audiences today.
As soon as Jim and Selena remain in London by themselves, he asks about plans. She laughs in his face noting bitterly that if he is thinking about "falling in love and fucking," he better forget it. I never did quite understand why these two things were expected to go together, but never mind. Her statement would have been amusing (as it seemed at the time) but then they proceed to do exactly that, turning the whole thing into a maudlin melodrama. This, then, is the second unintentional irony.
As in Wyndham's story, a young girl, Hannah (Megan Burns), joins the group. There was a sort of an extended background plot here that includes Hannah's father if only to get him promptly killed off after subjecting him to the indignity of agreeing to allow his daughter to take some drugs "to make her sleep better." I guess that would also pass for progressive thinking. To me it smacked on relinquishment of responsibility. Anyway, the group goes off to Manchester after picking up an automated radio broadcast from some soldiers there. Why the message would promise the solution to infection without mentioning what it is, remains a mystery. Why the group never really ponders that little fact, is undisputedly one of the stupidest things in the film.
Anyway, off they go, in search of other survivors, much like in Wyndham's story. A quick parallel is the stocking up on supplies, although the people in the film shed their norms rather quickly unlike the guy in the novel. When Hannah's father leaves his credit card on their way out, it is obviously a meaningless gesture, designed to evoke laughter with its incongruity. When Bill leaves money upon walking out of the store in the novel, he does so because his sense of propriety and clinging to "old ways" compels him to do so. It is sad because it also betrays his hope against hope that things will somehow go back to normal. But it is not funny.
Then the group joins the soldiers commanded by Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston), an upgrade to the Colonel in the novel. The group has barricaded itself in an old manor, mined the approaches, and is otherwise apparently occupied with looking shabby, dirty, and stupid. In complete contrast to the group in the novel which was trying to organize itself for survival, this bunch seems intent on waiting out the disaster. But they need women! Why? According to the Major, to perpetuate the human race. But according to everyone else, to rape them. Apparently, all British soldiers are rapists unless there's a system that keeps them in check. If that's not offensive, I don't know what is. In the novel, the logic of survival did compel abandonment of certain rules, but never did it involve compulsion or rape.
As soon as Jim finds out what the gang is up to, he tries to leave with the two women, but is caught. Then he and a dude who has tried to help him are led into the forest to be executed! That's right, in a world teeming with rage-infected zombies (who will soon die of starvation because they apparently don't know how to eat), in a world where ostensibly every last man would be necessary to rebuild, the dumb soldiers decide to just kill two perfectly good males. They bungle this, of course, and Jim escapes. His next move is utterly incredible for he not only attacks the soldiers but sics a rage-infected guy on them. This takes care of everything and the three leave, ending up in the peaceful countryside, where they soon hail the arrival of a plane.
Thus, in one fell swoop, Boyle and Garland utterly destroy Wyndham's vision too. You see, there's no end of the world after all. Apparently, Britain has been quarantined by the rest of the world until the zombies starve to death. This, of course, should have been obvious. Since the incubation period of the rage illness is 10-20 seconds, it would be hard to transport it across the Channel (or anywhere else) without it being noticed. Therefore, the world has not ended. Therefore, there's nothing to rebuild. Therefore, the whole charade was a stupid gimmick, an excuse to show a lot of violence, wrapped around a badly plotted and utterly misguided feminist/multiculturalist agenda, and salted with a bit of social criticism although why it should be directed against the army would remain unknown.
Simple questions remain. Why the rage-infected individuals missed Jim at the hospital remains unexplained (answer: to have a protagonist). Why he is naked and uncovered in the hospital bad one can only guess at (answer: cheap shocker for the underage or overage). Why the survivors have to 'travel by daylight' is never cleared up either (answer: because it's hard to shoot night scenes with no budget). Why the rage-infected people do not know how to feed is a mystery (answer: to have a happy ending).
That the filmmakers stole Wyndham's story is beyond dispute. That they missed its point completely is although without doubt. That they have nothing really to tell is now obvious.
The film is dumb, shallow, violent (for no reason), badly shot and directed, with some forgettable music and unconvincing performances. It is a total waste of time that should never have seen wide distribution. I hope it does not "revive" the zombie films, as some have predicted. These are dead for good reason.
The one funny thing should be apparent to all Americans. Why didn't the Britons immediately arm themselves with firearms?
July 13, 2003