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With: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston
Written by: Alex Garland
Directed by: Danny Boyle
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, language and nudity
Running Time: 113
Date: 01/11/2002

28 Days Later (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Return of the Dead

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Firstly, let's make one thing clear. 28 Days Later does not featureSandra Bullock going back into rehab. This is an entirely differentanimal: a zombie movie directed by Danny Trainspotting Boyle.

Boyle has ridden a decidedly up-and-down career. He broke into feature films with Shallow Grave, a decent homage to Hitchcock that earned notice for its violence and its off-kilter vision. His sophomore effort, Trainspotting, was one of the best films of 1996, a raucous, funny, sick, vibrantly alive adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel.

But his third film was the odd and slapdash A Life Less Ordinary, followed by the awful The Beach, which, despite star Leonardo DiCaprio's presence, was a huge hit in Europe and a painful flop here. A few of Boyle's more recent films failed to secure US distribution.

Now he's back, starting from square one with tons of gore but not as much style.

Based on a screenplay from The Beach author Alex Garland, 28 Days starts promisingly, when a sorry-looking, scruffy slacker, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes in his hospital bed. The hospital has been ransacked and everyone is gone. Jim stumbles around, finds some doctor's scrubs to wear, downs a Pepsi and wanders out into the city.

Though he keeps calling "hello," no one answers. Everything is still. Boyle pulls back to show how big and empty the city seems. Eventually, he finds a church and sees a pile of bodies lying in the pews. Once again, he tries "hello." Several severe, scary looking faces suddenly poke up and begin to chase him. Zombies. And unlike George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and sequels, these zombies can really move.

As the film unspools, it grows less promising. Jim hooks up with a disparate band of other survivors, hardened Selena (Naomie Harris), doting father Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his young teenage daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). Together they hit the road to discover the source of a repeating radio signal.

It turns out that the army, commanded by Major West (Christopher Eccleston) has set up a kind of safe house in which they hunt down and kill the zombies, looking for ways to defeat the whole bunch of them. Not surprisingly, the army turns out to be just as psychotic and dangerous as the zombies.

Boyle presents 28 Days Later as a low budget item shot on DV, purposely reminiscent of past zombie movies, especially a 1980s cult item known as Night of the Comet. But at the same time, he steals whole ideas and plotlines outright without the slightest hint of irony, parody or even enthusiasm. It winds up a dreary, bitter movie, not particularly scary or fun.

The problem is that the quintessential zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, remains one of the greatest of all movies. While modern filmmakers have found ways to subvert other movie monsters -- especially vampires -- zombie movies have rarely equaled Romero's brilliant social satires.

Not to mention that Romero went out of his way to make his low budget movies look professional -- the black-and-white photography in Night of the Living Dead comes close to beautiful at times -- while Boyle tries to make his professional movie seem low budget by making it ugly, jerky and grainy.

The movie would have benefited greatly if either Boyle decided to say something, or decided to say nothing. But instead he awkwardly teeters between the two, between wanting to shock us with generic horror moments and wanting us to consider the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

He even betrays us with a wimpy ending that only makes Romero's stinging Night of the Living Dead ending seem even more potent.

In its defense, 28 Days Later does reveal the occasional inspired moment. Those mysterious first 10-15 minutes are extremely good, and I will always treasure the shot of Brendan Gleeson leaning over and sniffing a bin of fresh fruit (surrounded by other bins of rotten fruit) and muttering the Homer Simspon-esque, "Mmmm... Irradiated."

Sadly, the end result comes much closer to the pointless 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead than to anything that matters.

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