28 Days Later is a 2002 British post-apocalyptic science fiction horror film. It was directed by Danny Boyle, and was released in the United Kingdom on November 1, 2002 and in the United States on June 27, 2003.
Set in England, during the early 21st century, the story concerns the breakdown of society following the accidental release of a deadly virus known as "Rage", which turns people mindlessly violent, and the struggle of four survivors to come to terms with the ruins of everything they once knew.
The film opens with the initial outbreak of the Rage virus, caused when an infected chimpanzee bites an animal rights activist attempting to free it from a laboratory. Twenty-eight days later, Jim, a bicycle courier, wakes up from a coma in a strangely deserted hospital. Leaving the hospital, Jim discovers that all of London seems likewise deserted; the streets are empty and filled with signs of catastrophe. Taking refuge in a church, Jim is chased by the Infected and rescued by two survivors, Selena and Mark, who rush him to their hideout in a section of the London Underground. Jim learns that while he was comatose, the virus spread uncontrollably among the people, turning them into vicious and mindless monsters, referred to as "infected", and finally collapsing society, possibly on a global scale.
While visiting Jim's house, they discover that his parents have committed suicide. Later the group are attacked by Infected, and during the struggle Mark's arm is cut and exposed to infected blood. Selena kills him - before Mark shows any conclusive sign of infection - and she explains to Jim that it only takes seconds before those who are contaminated become Infected. They cannot take risks.
On their journey through the city they meet two other survivors, Frank and his daughter, Hannah. After spending the night at Frank's flat it becomes apparent that the few uninfected people will not survive for long, given that their supplies- particularly their water- are dwindling and London is suffering a drought. Frank later picks up a pre-recorded radio broadcast made by a group of soldiers who have set up a blockade near Manchester and claim to have "the answer to Infection". Despite reservations, the group decide to leave London to join the soldiers. At the blockade, Frank becomes infected, and is then killed by the soldiers, barely having time to tell his daughter he loves her before he succumbs to the infection.
The soldiers inhabit a fortified mansion, under the command of Major Henry West. Jim learns of West's answer to Infection - waiting until the Infected die of starvation, and in order to guarantee the survival of the species, luring survivors to the base to acquire women and satiate his men. Jim tries to escape with Selena and Hannah but is subdued and led out into a forest to be killed.
Escaping his captors, Jim returns to the mansion to rescue Selena and Hannah. He allows an Infected into the house, where it attacks and infects most of the remaining soldiers. As the trio prepare to leave, West shoots Jim in the stomach. West is killed by an infected soldier who is named Mailer, and the trio escape.
After another twenty-eight days, the Infected are seen dying of starvation. Selena, Hannah, and Jim, who is recovering from his injuries, have taken refuge in a remote cottage. They are able to signal a passing aircraft.
Style and inspiration
On the DVD commentary, Boyle and Garland frequently call it a post apocalyptic, horror and zombie film, commenting on scenes that were specific references to George A. Romero's original Dead trilogy. However, during the initial marketing of the film Boyle did try to distance the film from such labels. The film's score was composed by John Murphy and was released in a score/song compilation in 2003. Much of the soundtrack, however, is based on a heavily edited version of the song "East Hastings" by the post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The track is excluded from the soundtrack, due to group ethics.
28 Days Later is usually included in the zombie genre. However, the Infected portrayed within the film fit only certain parts of the traditional zombie archetype. While zombies are generally slow, unintelligent, and hungry for human flesh, and are almost universally undead, the Infected are merely living human beings overcome with senseless rage brought on by the highly infectious Rage virus. They can be killed just as any human can and possess no supernatural abilities or inhuman strengths. At the same time, the Infected show many zombie characteristics: a bite-transmitted condition that results in the affected individual's loss of personality, decrease in cognitive function (e.g. problems with conventional door operation), aggressive pursuit of the uninfected, and the urge to spread the condition further all form part of the classic zombie film trope.
George Romero's 1973 film The Crazies dealt with a small town whose citizens were sent into homicidal rage by a highly infectious, government-created pathogen.
Return to hospital
The first alternate ending is fully filmed. In this alternate ending, Jim is mortally wounded after escaping from the soldiers. Selena and Hannah rush Jim to a local hospital in a futile attempt to save his life. After Jim dies, the two women leave his body at the hospital; this completes an eerie circle for Jim, who began and ended the film alone in a deserted hospital. This ending closes with Selena and Hannah walking down the hospital corridor, still dressed in their red gowns and armed with guns, as the operating room doors slowly close and conceal them from view.
This ending was included in the first cut of the film and was tested in theatres with preview audiences. It was ultimately rejected for being too bleak, and also because test audiences misinterpreted the ending's intended mood. Garland and Boyle meant for Selena and Hannah's exit from the hospital to imply survival, whereas audiences felt that the women were walking into certain death.
On the DVD commentary, Garland and Boyle refer to this alternate ending as their personally preferred end to the film, calling it the "true ending."
Modification of rescue ending
An unpolished alternate ending is included on the DVD, which is very similar to the original coda scene of potential rescue from the air. This time, however, Jim is not present.
Return to research complex
The second alternate ending was not filmed and is presented as a series of storyboards and voiceovers. The story picks up at the point where Frank is infected at the military roadblock near Manchester. This time, the sub-plot involving the soldiers does not take place. In a radical turn, Jim, Selena, and Hannah take Frank to a local research complex, where the virus was developed. Their goal is to attempt to find the cure for the virus, which the radio broadcast had suggested was nearby.
A short time after arriving at the research complex, Jim and Selena discover a man who has locked himself in one of the rooms with enough food and water to survive for another week. After asking if he had sent the radio broadcast, the man replies that the soldiers back at the blockade had sent the broadcast, but they have already died. He refuses to talk to them any further. Jim attempts to get the man to sympathize with them by telling the man his life's story, which is related through various clips of Jim recounting trivial details about his life. In desperation, Jim brings Hannah outside the room and explains their situation to the man. In the end, the man tells them that the cure is a complete blood transfusion. Jim sacrifices himself so that Frank can live. Again, Jim is left alone, infected in a deserted hospital, while Selena, Hannah, and Frank move into the room with the man.
Garland and Boyle say on the DVD commentary that they conceptualized this ending in post-production to see what the film would be like if they did not expand the focus beyond the core four survivors. They decided against this ending because the idea of a total blood replacement (i.e., removing all of Frank's blood and replacing it with Jim's) was not feasible.
While travelling around London at the beginning of the film, Jim picks up a copy of the Evening Standard. The front page carries a single headline printed in large font: "EVACUATION", with the sub-heading "Mass exodus of British people causes global chaos" Above the main headline, there are 3 small subheadings with page numbers- "Who will stop them?", "Refugee Crisis Looms" and "Dangerous Animals." Below the headline, the front page contains a list of London's boroughs with evacuation information on the left side with the main body containing the following smaller headlines, in order:
- "Blair declares a state of emergency"
- "Military ordered 'shoot to kill'"
- "Government Check points overrun"
- "UN to build giant refugee camps"
- "Chaos at all London airports"
- "Government call for calm"
- "Military patrol waters around Britain"
- "All roads around London grid-locked"
In the DVD's special features it is revealed that, in order to preserve the suspension of disbelief, relatively unknown actors were cast in the film. However, actors Christopher Eccleston and Brendan Gleeson were already well-known as character actors. Eccleston, who went on to become famous for his portrayal of the Ninth Doctor in the 2005 series of Doctor Who, had also appeared in films such as Let Him Have It, The Others, Gone in 60 Seconds, eXistenZ and Shallow Grave (another film directed by Boyle). Gleeson had appeared in Braveheart, Lake Placid, and The General, and went on to appear in Troy and Dark Blue.
One month before the film was released in cinemas, various newspapers included a short panel comic book style promo about the film; the various scenes showed a panicking London during those 27 days with people trying to escape the city en masse.
It is interesting to note that the word "Zombie" is never used in the whole film similar to most of George Romero's Dead films and to the 1987 film Near Dark, in which vampires are the focus and the word "Vampire" is never spoken.
A sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was released on May 11, 2007. Danny Boyle and Alex Garland took producing roles along side Andrew Macdonald. The plot revolves around the idea of Americans arriving about seven months after the incidents in the original film and attempting to revitalize an empty Britain. The cast of the original film did not return for this film. The cast for this sequel includes Robert Carlyle, Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau, Catherine McCormack and Idris Elba.
Fox Atomic Comics, in association with Harper Collins, is publishing a graphic novel bridging the gap between 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, entitled 28 Days Later: The Aftermath, written by Steve Niles.
In March of 2007, 28 Days Later director and 28 Weeks Later executive producer Danny Boyle were interviewed by an Irish radio station. He announced plans for a third film in the series, but did not mention a title.
28 Days Later features scenes set in normally bustling parts of London such as Westminster Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, Horse Guards Parade and Oxford Street. To capture these locations looking empty and desolate, the film crew closed off sections of street for minutes at a time, usually early in the morning, to minimize disruption. Parts of the film were shot on a Canon XL1 digital video camera. DV cameras are much smaller and more manoeuvrable than traditional film cameras, which would have been impractical on such brief shoots.
The scenes of the M1 motorway completely devoid of traffic were also filmed in limited time slots. In this case, a mobile police roadblock slowed traffic down enough to leave a long section of carriageway empty while the scene was filmed. The section used for filming was actually at Milton Keynes, nowhere near Manchester.
For the scene where Jim walks by the overturned doubledecker bus in London, the crew was able to place the bus on its side and remove it when the shot was finished, all in under 20 minutes.
Filming took place before the September 11, 2001 attacks, and in the audio commentary Boyle notes the similarity between the "missing persons" flyers seen at the beginning of the film and how people tried to find missing persons in New York City after 9/11. Boyle also notes that they probably would not have been given permission to close off Downing Street to film after the terrorist attacks.
The character Jim was English in the original script, and several scenes were actually shot with Cillian Murphy using an English accent. Due to Murphy's request, he continued the shoot using his own accent and dubbed the lines that had already been shot in post-production.
The mansion used was Trafalgar Park near Salisbury. Many rooms within the house, including the Cipriani room and the main hall, were used during filming with minimal set decoration. The scenes that take place in upstairs rooms were actually filmed downstairs, as the mansion's owner resided upstairs.
The film was a considerable success at the box office and became highly profitable on a budget of about £5 million ($9.8 million). In the UK, it took £6.1 million ($12 million), while in the US it became a surprise hit, taking over US$45 million despite a limited release at fewer than 1,500 screens nationwide. Worldwide the film scooped up around $82.7m.
Critical views of the film were very positive (with a rating of 88% at RottenTomatoes ) the L.A. Times describing it as a "stylistic tour de force", and efilmcritic.com describing it as "raw, blistering and joyously uncompromising".
The success of 28 Days Later has led to the creation of a number of spoofs and parodies:
- 48 Hours Later (2003) follows the same plot of a man waking to a plague-infested world.
- Malaysian film 28 Hours Later (2005) relocates the basic plot of 28 Days Later to Kuala Lumpur.
- "Team Tiger Awesome" created a series of videos called 28 Day Slater. Whilst the title is clearly a play on 28 Days Later, the videos' plots actually parody Saved by the Bell and feature a fictional representation of Mario Lopez, who believes that he is Slater, his character from Saved by the Bell, during the month of February (a 28-day month).
- At the conclusion of the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead, a television broadcaster can be heard stating that reports that the zombies were caused by rage-infected monkeys were absurd.
28 Days Later: The Soundtrack Album is the accompanying soundtrack to the 2002 film 28 Days Later. It was released on June 17, 2003. The original score was composed by John Murphy, and tracks from Brian Eno, Grandaddy and Blue States which featured in the movie also appear on the album. An edited version of "East Hastings" by Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor appeared in the movie but not on the soundtrack album.
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