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31 Days of the Undead: 28 Days Later

In honor of Romero Lives!, the city's month-long George A. Romero tribute, Pittsburgh City Paper presents 31 Days of the Undead, a series of reviews and essays about zombie media. Look for new posts going up every day from now through Oct. 31.

28 Days Later (2002)
click to enlarge 31 Days of the Undead: 28 Days Later
Photo: 20th Century Fox
I don't watch many horror or zombie films but for some reason had yet to see 28 Days Later. My boyfriend holds it in high regard, citing the film as one of his favorite pieces of zombie media, and googling 28 Days Later confirmed his belief, with reviewers calling the film one of the best British horror films in decades. I prepared myself to be scared shitless.

28 Days Later opens in a lab, where animal rights activists are attempting to free chimps locked in cages. The medical researcher begs them to stop. He says the animals are infected with rage. Not knowing what that means, the activists open one of the cages and unknowingly release havoc into the U.K. 

Cut to 28 days later, and viewers meet Jim (Cillian Murphy), a bike courier who was hit by a car a month prior and is just waking up from a coma. Jim finds London deserted, but luckily meets Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who help Jim get his bearings. After Mark becomes infected with "rage," Selena and Jim venture off on their own, coming across Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter, Hannah (Megan Burns), who team up to try and find a military base that is said to be a safe zone.

Usually, in post-apocalyptic settings, it's everyone for themselves. People scheme, plot, and hoard from others. If you don't survive, it's not their problem. So I was shocked right away that all the initial characters were so willing to help each other out. It occurred to me, maybe this was because the situation was so dire, they needed any help they could get. The infected in 28 Days Later are the fast kind that jump, pounce, and rip you apart. More people equals increased odds of surviving. It isn't until reaching the military base that the darker side of the mentality comes out. The ones that should be the most help, the military officials, are actually the most corrupt. They try to abuse their power to sexually assault Selena and Hannah, and their evil eventually leads to the downfall of the safe space.

28 Days Later seemed to focus more on the relationships between the characters than the gore, the action, and the horror. Yes, there were plenty of action-packed scenes, but considering all the talk I heard about how scary the film was, I expected more. I wanted those "AH" screaming in your house moments.

Then, I remembered that 28 Days Later is from 2002. After looking around to confirm my suspicions, it was one of the first films to have fast and swift zombies, changing the formula for an entire generation of zombie media that came after it.  28 Days Later was thrilling for the time, but after decades of apocalyptic movies, we have become desensitized, and need more gruesome action to be alarmed.

Either way, it's a classic film to mark off your zombie bucket list.

28 Days Later is available to rent on most streaming platforms.

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