When George A. Romero released Dawn of the Dead back in 1978, the zombie movie helped revolutionize the specialty genre as a whole. By the time 2003 rolled around, zombie movies weren’t as much of a hot commodity as they are now; however, 28 Days Later helped evolve zombie films from the classic George A. Romero model. Starring Cillian Murphy as Jim, the London bike courier wakes up from a coma after a month and finds that his city has been completely deserted. That’s due to the zombies running rampant around London city. Jim must fight for survival in order to stay alive and he meets a couple of survivors along the way in hopes of fleeing the city. 28 Days Later was critically praised for its fresh take on the zombie apocalypse; While the horror movie didn’t make Avengers Endgame type of money, 28 Days Later still turned out to be a financially successful film by making nearly $90 million at the box office. However, that was in 2002, and in 2022, the landscape of zombie films has changed. Thanks to The Walking Dead, it’s one of the hottest genres in media, and films like Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, or Train to Busan have helped add new layers to the genre.
So, is 28 Days Later a film that stands the test of time? Often, a movie that’s highly praised upon release ages badly over time. 2002 was a different period for horror movies in general. We’ve evolved past an abundance of mindless slashers and gory torture porn, with more thought-provoking and nuanced horrors like Get Out, A Quiet Place, or Midsommar taking over the landscape. But to answer the question, 28 Days Later is still a perfectly fine movie despite its age. Do the visuals hold up? Not really. Granted the blood and effects still look great; however, there are some parts of the film that do look ugly. However, it’s nothing serious enough to prevent you from popping in the DVD for another watch. What makes 28 Days Later stand the test of time is the fact that it isn’t just some mindless feature about blood, guts, and gore. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of that within the film, but it does a great job of examining human nature when it comes to dire situations. In a rare situation for a horror movie, character development is actually present within the film. We as an audience get to connect with Jim, Selena, Frank, and Hannah. Simple scenes such as the group going shopping for food allows them to showcase the different sides of their personalities. Throughout most of 28 Days of Later, Selena is a bit rough around the edges, but her laughing and smiling away during that scene helps us gravitate towards her character. 28 Days Later paved the way for films like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland. Granted, I understand the inspiration behind both movies, but 28 Days Later helped show that there can be a level of nuance or intelligence when it comes to horror movies. Because Danny Boyle opted for character development, it made us care about Frank’s death or the impending danger that Hannah, Jim, and Selena face at the military compound. Again, the shots get a bit murky at the military compound and it is disappointing that the soldiers turn out to be rape happy bastards, but that’s a minor nitpick in an otherwise great film.
More importantly, 28 Days Later doesn’t rely on violence and action to carry its narrative. This tends to be one of the main issues for these types of movies. Zombie films often rely on an abundance of zombies or insane action to push the story forward. In some cases, it can work because important character moments can take place, but more often than not, characters shoot and blast their way with ease. Every now and then, someone big will die, but since the film doesn’t slow down to spend time developing these human beings, the big character death rings hollow because we just don’t care about them. There are big stretches of action sequences throughout 28 Days later, but the quieter moments help balance out the film’s runtime. Now, 28 Days Later isn’t some politically driven piece that draws from real life. It’s escapism. Sure, there are moments and people that you can identify with, but the zombie film never forgets its roots and its job to simply entertain. 28 Days Later is rightfully a classic that holds the test of time. Is it a perfect film? No, but it’s level of intelligence, action, and genuine horror are what makes it stand out in a sea full of crappy horror.
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