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'28 Days Later'

Virus is the monster in '28 Days'

Friday, June 27, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Let me hasten to reassure you. The movie "28 Days Later" is not a sequel to the Sandra Bullock film about a woman in alcohol rehab. No, it's even scarier than that.

'28 Days Later'

RATING: R for strong violence and gore, language and nudity.

STARRING: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns.

DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle.


I mean that in a good sense. Director Danny Boyle's latest effort is a horror film with a social dimension -- well, as social as possible in a movie where most of the population of England has been wiped out by the effects of a manmade virus that turns its victims into snarling hysterics. They make the Hulk seem soporific in their attacks on anyone not yet infected.

They resemble nothing so much as hyperactive zombies, pardon the oxymoron. Horror fans may note a resemblance in some scenes to George Romero's movies or to other sci-fi fright flicks. But the real power in this movie lies not in the bloodletting so much as in the moments between, when Boyle communicates the enormity of the epidemic in quiet scenes where it becomes evident the most precious thing in this world is whatever little humanity remains in it.

Indeed, it is all too easy to contemplate the allegory of homo sapiens unwittingly using science to turn ourselves into weapons of mass destruction, of the extreme consequences of the anger that seems to be spreading through society over recent years, of killer viruses ravaging the population, of humankind reverting to an elemental state, either through infection or the requirements of self-defense -- kill or be killed.

The movie opens smartly as a group of animal-rights terrorists invades a laboratory and, ignoring warnings that the caged monkeys are infected with a dangerous virus, frees them.

Next thing we know, a young man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital and finds himself completely alone. The place has been fairly trashed, and in the rubble we may spot a crumpled newspaper with a headline screaming "Evacuation!"

But we are held spellbound once Jim wanders outside into an utterly deserted London, its monuments and landmarks standing mute like majestic tombstones, the streets eerily quiet except for his occasional, unanswered shouts of "Hello!"

Ultimately, Jim does come across other people, some of them infected. Those who are not will do anything to stay that way. He meets Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) fighting off the enraged ones. Later, they encounter Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his teenage daughter Hannah (Megan Burns).

The survivors become a kind of family and even find a little bit of pastoral peace that we know cannot last. We feel the loss when someone dies. We wonder how they can endure.

The climactic action takes place at a military installation where, once again, we meet the enemy and he is us. Unfortunately, this is the weakest part of the movie, overwrought with violence and frenzy as blood lust becomes mixed with other base desires that also, in a way, have to do with the issue of survival.

Boyle shot the movie in digital video and the attack scenes are choppy and grainy, giving us more of an impression of ferocity than a graphic depiction. It can be annoying, but it seems to fit the tone of the story.

The movie reunites Boyle with writer Alex Garland, who wrote the novel upon which the director's previous film, "The Beach," was based. That's a movie best forgotten, a "Lord of the Flies" wannabe featuring Generation X hippies looking for paradise.

They fare much better with "28 Days Later," which recalls the visual verve and measured manipulation of Boyle's first feature, "Shallow Grave." They're both bloody good.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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