Welcome to the third installment of Screen Rant’s Halloween lead-up series called “Horror Plus” – a feature which sets out to showcase one film that combines horror with another genre. It will basically serve as a review of the film at hand, explaining why it’s such a good example of genre merging.
In case you missed them, our first installment in the series was Horror Plus Comedy: Shaun of the Dead, and our second was Horror Plus Sci-fi: Alien. Be sure to keep and eye out for other installments such as “Horror Plus Action” and “Horror Plus Crime” in the coming weeks leading up to Halloween on October 31st.
Thriller is a difficult genre to choose from because of how broad it is and how many bases it covers. I guess the definition that pops into my mind when I think of a thriller is a film which keeps me on the edge of my seat throughout, keeps me wanting to see what happens next in an exciting and attention-grabbing way. And when I think of combining that with horror, the first film that popped into my head (for whatever reason) was Danny Boyle’s fantastic 28 Days Later.
(The following may contain moderate SPOILERS)
The film starts off with a group of animal rights activists who infiltrate a research center that is conducting experiments on monkeys. Against the pleads of the scientist in the lab, they let the monkeys loose, not knowing they are infected with a disease known as “RAGE.” We then cut to 28 days later, with Jim (Cillian Murphy) awaking in a hospital. Setting out from there, we see the streets totally deserted of people. Eventually Jim runs into a hoard of “the infected” and after a narrow escape from them with the help of some human survivors, Jim and others attempt to make there way to a military base where they believe help can be found.
One of the main things that makes 28 Days Later such an impressive film for me is the sense of urgency and genuine fear that Boyle as the director manages to achieve. He is able to get you interested right from the outset, with a twist on the zombie genre that will help solidify it as a film that will be looked back on with admiration for years to come. There’s quite a bit of gore to be found to go along with the thrills, particularly towards the end, so the squeamish beware. But even as a movie fan not that keen on gory films, I found those moments bearable within the brutal context of the film and the particular scene at hand.
Just as a quick note, I realize calling the “creatures” in the movie zombies isn’t technically correct but in my eyes that’s really splitting hairs. But I digress…
The scenes that depict the surviving, non-infected humans being chased by the infected I think are up there with the most intense scenes of the 21st century. One scene in particular stands out as not only a great example of that sort of thing, but probably the best, most effective scene of the entire movie: Jim and a few other survivors decide to take a tunnel to get to the main road instead of taking the longer route through the city streets. While driving under the tunnel, one of the car’s tires goes flat and they are forced to get out of the car and change the tire, knowing full well the darkness of the tunnel will soon mean infected will be upon them.
The way Boyle builds up tension is just brilliant. When we first hear rats scuffling before realizing they’re running from something, the infected. As hordes of these attackers get closer and closer, the survivors work as fast as they can to change the tire. Just as the first infected reaches the car, they manage to drive off “safely.” It’s a simple scene on paper but Boyle gets as much tension and excitement out of it as possible.
What 28 Days Later offers on top of the horror and thriller combination (and this is one of the other things that I think will make it stand up in years to come) is the dramatic resonance. We actually come to care about what happens to these survivors, who include Jim, Selena (Naomie Harris), Hannah (Megan Burns) and Frank (Brendan Gleeson). It’s not often you get to say that about this type of film, where usually you not only expect most of the main characters to get killed by film’s end but you don’t really care whether they do or not (cheap teen slashers, I’m lookin’ at you…). But the film manages to find the time for great characterization even amongst the intense scenes of running and generally surviving.
I’ve read a lot of people split on opinion when the film gets to about two thirds of the way through, when the survivors meet up with the military team they’ve been searching for. Much like most of Boyle’s films, it becomes almost like a completely different movie at a certain point, changing from a lone group of survivors in city streets deserted, to a more “full-on” survival film with an injection of action and sometimes crazed strangeness (a strong example of the latter involves some very gory and brutal attack scenes towards the end). I personally love that the film gives you a totally different feel in the last 30-40 minutes, as it brings something different to the table than a lot of other films of its type(s).
Before I finish, one very prominent feature of the film is the score by John Murphy. It helps to build that sense of dread and urgency that Boyle achieves, mixing that with a sort of “end of the world, no hope” feel (this is also achieved with the gritty cinematography by Oscar winner Anthony Dod Mantle). If you haven’t heard it or just can’t remember the exactly the music, you’ll recognize one piece from a million movie trailers since this film’s release in 2002. Here’s the theme if you’re interested.
Overall, I think 28 Days Later is a standout piece of modern horror/thriller cinema that mixes a whole load of elements into one exciting, interesting, hyper-intense film with a resonance that will help it work just as much in 30 or 40 years from now as it does today. It leaves things satisfyingly ambiguous at the end, but at the same time not needing a sequel. Of course, they did make a sequel called 28 Weeks Later (with none of the original cast), which is more of an action flick than the first one was, and in my opinion not as good (certainly not on repeat viewings).
Well, that concludes the third installment of Screen Rant’s on-going “Horror Plus” series. I’ve told you what I think, now it’s YOUR turn: What do you think of 28 Days Later? Did you find it as effective as I did? Any particular favorite moments that you’d like to share? Leave your thoughts and opinions below.
As stated, be sure to keep an eye out for more installments of the “Horror Plus” feature before Halloween, October 31st!