Day three horror film recommendation: “28 Days Later”

Colin McLaughlin

For movie buffs, the month of October means one thing: 31 days of horror movies. With tons of horror flicks to choose from, The Daily Texan is going to be providing a daily horror recommendation. Whether you prefer ghosts, zombies or stark explorations of the human condition, we’ll be featuring horror films of all flavors. Check back every evening for the movie of the day. First up is Danny Boyle’s 2003 zombie thriller “28 Days Later.” 

I have a bias toward “28 Days Later.” Boyle’s reimagining of the zombie genre was one of the first horror movies I ever saw, and so it holds a special place in my heart for giving me one of my first truly terrifying movie experiences. I’ll get to the scene that is seared into my memory later, but first I’ll address the question that always seems to come up whenever “28 Days Later” is discussed: What is a zombie? 

By conventional definition, the zombies in “28 Days Later” are not zombies at all — that is, they have not risen from the grave. The walking (running) dead in this movie are referred to as “infected.” They are victims of an engineered “Rage Virus” that is released upon an unsuspecting populace when some blockheaded activists set free a cage of infected monkeys. The hyper-alert infected are a far cry from the lumbering drones of George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” and their relentless sprinting means that even one could spell disaster. The recently concluded Fantastic Fest addressed this very question in the annual Fantastic Debates, concluding that “28 Days Later” is, in fact, a zombie movie. Regardless of one’s definition of zombie, “28 Days Later” is still horrifying. 

“28 Days Later” is such a departure from conventional zombie film norms that it is only a zombie film for about half of its runtime. The second half finds our group of survivors, Jim (Cillian Murphy), Selena (Naomie Harris) and Hannah (Megan Burns) rescued by a platoon of soldiers who prove to be even more terrifying than the hordes of infected. Major Henry West (Christopher Eccleston) turns from savior to slaver in a single line to Jim, and the fallout of that conversation pits Jim against his would-be rescuers with a one-man army mentality. While Boyle tends to compliment the breakneck pace of his infected with a frenetic, music video-esque editing style, he suspends the audience in a long take where Jim kills one of the soldiers with his bare hands, providing one of the more disturbing deaths in recent cinematic memory. 

A brilliant piece of horror staging late in the film gives “28 Days Later” its scariest scene with a single shot. As a group of characters searches for an infected, the camera pans — here, again, Boyle gives us the underused steady take — and reveals their target just on the other side of a nearby window. Even though the movie shows you what is about to happen a few beats before the hammer drops, you haven’t had enough time to process what you see and so you jump in fright with the soldiers. It’s one of those rare scares in movies that get you every time, even when you know it’s coming. 

Anyone looking for a potential costume idea for “28 Days Later” only needs to watch the opening scene, where a naked Jim wakes up in a hospital. Simply walk around with a confused expression and say, “Hello?” every few minutes. One could also go for the soldier-turned-zombie look, which is a tad more conservative.