28 Days Later (2002)
|Photo Credit: 28 Days Later / Fox Searchlight Pictures|
28 Days Later isn't exactly about an undead apocalypse. A virus causing a violent rage unleashes when an animal-rights groups' mission to rescue lab-tested monkeys fails. People don't die and come back as zombies though, as is the lore of the genre. The rampant disease spreads when uninfected humans come in contact with the carriers with contaminated blood or saliva. Instead the infected become animalistic having no conscious and are ignited with a bloodthirsty rage, but aren't technically flesh-eaters.
Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up in a hospital smack dab in the middle of the post-apocalypse. The streets are barren, the government has fallen, and the world appears to have emptied of any human contact - except for a stubborn and headstrong survivor Selena (Naomie Harris), and a father-daughter duo Frank and Hannah. Jim quickly learns the rules to surviving. If you are bitten, you're less than a few heartbeats from becoming one of them. Unless you've got no other choice: don't go anywhere alone and only in daylight.
Unlike the carnivorous savages people turn into once they are infected, the film itself doesn't try to be downright horrifying, but it definitely is. The opening scenes of Jim waking up to an isolated and unaware of the desecrated world, walking around a deserted London, is enough to put anyone on edge. Most of the film isn't out to make you jump from your seat but has the power of making you question what people are capable of when the end of days has arrived.
Jim (and his partnership to Selena) is one of the best and most hopeful dynamics of the story. The rules of civility changed the second he woke up from his coma and he has no other choice or chance but to commit to his and hers survival. He struggles to hold onto his old self but has to face the risk of becoming barbarous to stay alive. Though made to look physically shriveled and weak, Cillian Murphy is simply enigmatic. He's frail physically and emotionally, but he has a capability to make you feel like there's still a fire burning inside him somewhere.
Selena, played by the awesome Naomie Harris, is refreshing as a female character overall. Having endured loss and adapted to the eye-for-an-eye lifestyle she's been forced into, she is stubborn and pragmatic. She doesn't put up with any threats that might kill her - not even Jim at some instances. But, she isn't just kick-ass, or defensive, or holding on the edge of her rope; she's also vulnerable in taking a chance on Jim and what their life can be like in the post-apocalypse.
Acquiring shelter, food, and protection is one way to keep breathing one more day, but re-establishing normalcy and finding your family might be the best way to persevere. Their union makes us question if you have to turn into an animal because of other shady survivors and the "undead".
Boyle's film is not necessarily gory, but it's still unsettling because of his examination: the many ways humankind degrades when faced with a societal fall like this; what the fear of a disease will turn people into. This is a limited-character drama told with a rock anthem of survival. A grungy, urban violence is its setting, obviously devastating and gritty. Through a steady momentum of thrills, the film has pausing moments of poetry and hope of the future. Despite how many threats, both human and non-human, ravages what's left of civilization, there is still glimmers of benevolence, love, and generosity left. The characters just have to hang tight on, day by day.