Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later

Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later

Our final review/conversation of movies in the Undeath Match genre: Danny Boyle’s awesome 28 Days Later. Following the discussion between Dan and I you’ll find a note from my friend Kathleen, who knows more about film than any other person I know. She weighs in on our categorical mistake of calling this a “zombie” movie. Clearly, the two of us are seriously unqualified in terms of our ability to defend our positions. Where’s Jim when you need him? I’m sure he’d set us straight.

DEANNA
Let’s just open our discussion about 28 Days Later by stating the obvious: it’s a really fucking good film. Sorry, was this supposed to be PG? I’ll rephrase: it’s farking good film. Did you feel the same way?

DAN
Yes.

DEANNA
There’s so much to like about this movie: Danny Boyle’s direction, the shocking way it opens (regardless of the non-realistic way that Cillian Murphy wakes up from his coma.

(No offense but he wouldn’t just be pulling IVs out of his arm… if you get my drift, and he would have been suffering from far more severe infections if they would have just been left dry… but anyway, it’s not meant to be totally realistic, right, it’s still a movie.)

Anyway, the freaky nature of the infected brings me to my first point: the debate that arises around whether or not we can convincingly call them zombies. I say yes. But I know many would disagree with me. What do you think?

One thing I will say, though, was the Lord of the Flies-type subplot that involves the soldiers is slightly less convincing and way more Hollywood than the rest of the picture. It might be the only section of the film I could convincingly critique. For me, when the movie took that turn it became less about Jim et al‘s struggle to survive and the very traditional man vs. man stuff that tends to happen whenever people are put in situations that challenge their traditional and comfortable modern-day lives.

DAN
I agree that this is definitely a zombie movie, even though they aren’t technically dead. People infected by the virus are no longer human and — as we’ve discussed before — if it looks like a zombie and wants to eat your face: it’s a zombie, (or a really bad date).

Anyway, it is a great film. It’s still amazingly creepy to see London so empty. I mean it’s NEVER like that, so it’s very disconcerting — very simple and very cleverly done.

And I think what makes this film creepy overall is that IT IS all kind of believable as far as zombie apocalypses go you know? I mean I didn’t really have a problem with the soldier subplot. Christopher Eccleston is suitably bonkers. And I seem to remember there’s a survivalist community locked away (and crazy) in a country house in Day of the Triffids too, so I wonder if that’s where that comes from?

How do feel about Cillian Murphy?

DEANNA
I think Cillian Murphy is amazingly talented (also, HOT). He can move from The Wind That Shakes The Barley to the Batman films, and then play a transvestite, and it’s all totally believable. He’s got one of those actor-ly faces that’s pretty enough to look good on the big screen but has enough talent to really pull out a great performance.

Was the idea of him being a bike courier and then an amazing survival-slash-apocalyptic hero all that convincing? Maybe not, but the film on the whole remains convincing. Each time he survives, maybe he feels a little more confident he actually deserves to do so and isn’t just sticking around because the script says so. Does that make sense? But my favourite character in the film has to be Brendan Gleeson’s Frank. His survival isn’t necessarily just about him — it’s all about his daughter.

I’ve never read Day of the Triffids so I can’t compare. But I would call the infected zombies. I mean they go way beyond a bad date and the change happens after you’re dead [note: they are technically NOT dead as I’ve since discovered] right? Plus, they’re unrecognizable as themselves once the change occurs. But how much slack will we get from calling them zombies from the purists out there? It’s also a little muddled because it’s a “rage” disease that’s transferred through the blood — and that’s kind of vampiric, isn’t it?

DAN
There’s something about Cillian Murphy I find a little sinister. It’s those super-blue eyes I think…. Or maybe that’s just the roles he’s played in other movies? That said, I thought he was great as Scarecrow in the Batman movies and I actually thought he was quite believable in 28 Days Later as “just some guy” who accidentally survives. He certainly looks rangy enough (and crazy enough?) to be a bike courier in London!

I think I’m just showing my age and my substandard English education harping on about Day of the Triffids — I’m pretty sure we had to read it at school. Or maybe it was the The Chrysalids, another post-apocalyptic sci-fi by John Wyndham? Anyway, in Day of the Triffids, almost everyone is blinded watching a spectacular meteor shower except the few people — including the hero who was in hospital with bandages over his eyes — who just missed it for some reason. Needless to say, everything goes to shit, and the people who can still see struggle to rebuild society while fighting these crazy walking flesh-eating plants called triffids!

So 28 Days Later is kind of similar only with zombies.

As a general rule I’d say that wobbly plants are a lot less scary than zombies, but there was a BBC TV series based on the books that terrified the shit out of me when I was little. It was kind of mind-blowing to my 8-year-old brain. The triffids made this weird rattling/clacking noise… creepy!

But back to 28 Days Later zombie debate. They’re definitely zombies to me. I think there’s kind of a history of “toxic zombies” who have been changed by radiation, or some virus or bio-hazard. I mean the zombies in the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z are created by the virus Solanum right? Although maybe they are the undead reanimated by the virus? I’m sure someone will tell us…

So I think 28 Days Later is probably my favourite of the movies we’ve watched so far. And I’m not just saying that because it’s a zombie movie. What say you?

DEANNA
Day of the Triffids sounds kind of like Blindness by Saramago (minus the meteor shower part). Anyway, there was a crazy miniseries that aired here in Canada about nuclear war that I can’t for the life of me remember the name of. It terrified my brother and I, like he slept with the lights on terrified, for WEEKS. But that sense of abandon, that sense of the entire human race being evaporated except for a few survivors, is one of the reasons why the film is so great (you mentioned that a few paragraphs ago). And I think that’s why I truly found that the first half of the film was so effective. The zombies are scary, sure, and like you I do think they are zombies, but I think that science or speculative fiction (if that makes sense) is always better when it’s just slightly to the side of reality.

Did you see Children of Men? That film terrified me because it felt so real; it felt exactly like something that COULD happen at any point in the future. Films like 28 Days Later do the same; they’re not straight up horror or straight up action, but something a little more intelligent even. I agree entirely, it’s an honest to goodness great film — nothing guilty about the pleasure in watching it; it’s just good solid storytelling and fine acting. And yes, there’s something deliciously sinister about Cillian Murphy, but it works so well in this picture in the second act.

What would you give it out of 10?

DAN
Triffids isn’t quite as glum (or allegorical) as Blindness, but there are definitely some similarities. But I thought that 28 Days Later owed something to Blindness as well come to that…

I used to hand-sell the shit out of Blindness when I worked at Pages…couldn’t bring myself to watch the movie adaptation though. Sigh. AND I loved Children of Men. It felt all too believable and was all the more chilling as a consequence. Clive Owen is great in that movie.

ANYWAY, I think 28 Days Later is a solid 8.3 for me. How about you?

DEANNA
Okay, so 28 Days Later. Yes, I’d agree 8.3, a solid A.

Added-value commentary from Kathleen, who later convinced me that the infected in 28 Days Later are indeed NOT zombies:

In my opinion, the thing that makes zombies scary is that the zombies don’t have a plan, a mission or a higher need other than eating flesh. They are primal killing machines (much like people used to think of sharks before ‘shark week’). It is the encroaching wall and the increase in numbers — every time someone dies, they will rise — that makes it feel unstoppable. It is the plague coming through before they figured out the whole rat thing.

For 28 Days Later (as opposed to 28 Days, of course), they have an active and aggressive purpose. Their rage propels them forward and it enables them to have a plan and work as a team. (Zombies arrive in huge numbers but they are not team players. Their actions are exactly the same whether on their own or in a large group. And just so you know, I purposefully avoided the word ‘mob’ as that implies a group mentality of sorts.) Also, the folks with the rage virus are still living and still human so they die if they do not receive sustenance. We see this at the end with the soldier tied up and starving to death. His body will give out and he will die. He will die and he will not rise again. The ‘ragers’, for lack of a better title, will die for the same reason that any other human will die. A zombie could be disemboweled and only have torso, one arm and a head and they will still come at you looking for a feast. The rager will not. He will be dead. The end.

Before 28 Days Later becomes the video game [note: the section of the film that deals with the soldiers], it follows the same model as zombie films with disparate people coming together (as does Dickens’ novels and Wes Anderson’s films. It’s a good motif and I’m very fond of it). What I like about the argument with 28 Days Later is that the ethical questions of killing humans vs. finding a cure vs. finding other options is given a very ‘at war’ or ‘under siege’ response. It is very different when it is zombies. Although I understand that it is hard to destroy a zombie loved one, you are still destroying a zombie and not a person. 28 Days Later felt (and okay, maybe I’m pushing this too far) like a comment on civil war and that’s why I think it is misleading to call it a zombie invasion film.

Clearly, I’ve thought about this far too much.

Nope, Kathleen, you’ve got it just about right.

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