First of all, let's clear something up. The only thing that Danny Boyle's
"28 Days Later" (IMDb listing) has in common with "Omega Man" is a post-apocalyptic setting
peopled with dangerous creatures. It's not based on the novel "I am Legend"
(believe it or not, "Omega Man" is), it doesn't star Charlton Heston, and
it's really, really good.
"28" is a top-notch-ish piece of filmmaking, in fact. It's scary when the
plot is served by being scary. It's sentimental but never saccharine. And,
just as important, its 112-minute duration is justified (it's my long-held
conviction that any film over 90 minutes has to justify its duration).
Oh, and another thing: the zombies in "28" don't lumber, which has been a
bit of a credibility problem in some zombie movies. Here they give chase.
I thought I was going to dislike the cheap, fuzzy look of the film at first,
but it grew on me, and I started to see it as an apt means of representing
an empty England. What ended up bothering me a little was the scarcity of
rules for the infected monsters of "28." Part of the fun of a monster movie
is watching how cleverly the filmmakers are able to operate within the
limitations of certain unbreakable laws (even if those laws are invented by
the writer). The stake has to go through the heart of the vampire, the
bullet used to dispatch the werewolf must be cast of silver, etc. Selena
(Naomie Harris), the heroine of "28," informs us that it's advisable to kill
a newly infected person within 15 or 20 seconds of infection, but not much
is ever done with this piece of newsother than to show, in one of the
film's bloodiest scenes, Selena's impressive adherence to her own
Where "28" exceeded all of my expectations was in its heavy reliance on
character; its ability to create the same kind of endgame quest vibe found
in the miniseries "The Stand," but with a much smaller budget and far less
time on its hands; and the foxy use of a split plot structure a la "Full
Metal Jacket." The first part of the film takes place in London, but a
military installation in Manchester becomes a sacred destination for our
hero, Jim (Cillian Murphy), and his band of pilgrimsespecially Frank
(Brendan Gleeson), the first to have learned of the installation's
whereabouts in a recorded broadcast he's been picking up on his wind-up
survival radio. Frank and his daughter team up with Jim and Selena in one
of the film's most believable and well-reasoned moments, and the pilgrimage
ensues. It's hard not to marvel at a relatively small-scale film like "28"
that's able to induce the same kind of feelings one gets watching an
expensive epic like "Lord of the Rings," but that's exactly what "28"
The ending is an unexpectedly violent affair, but we shouldn't be completely
unprepared for Jim's devolution to an animal state. The film opens in a
primate research facility at Cambridge, where a chimpanzee is strapped in
front of several television screens, forced to witness all manner of human
violenceapparently without pause, since we're seeing this after hours and
the screens are still beaming their grizzly images at the helpless animal
(yes, another Stanley Kubrick film comes to mind here). Soon after, we see
Jim in a hospital bed, naked from head to toe, assuming a similar position
to that of the chimp in the research lab. Even the shape of his beard
carries a hint of the simian. It's a nicely executed visual
comparison, and it leaves us wondering when and how the significance of the
connection will be demonstrated. We're not disappointed.
My guess is that some controversy will arise as to whether or not "28" is
actually a horror film. It is, of course. It's got monsters, it's scary
(beware the church where Jim encounters the first of many zombies to come!)
and there's (hopefully) an air of improbability to it all. But it's also a
sort of love story, and there's a philosophical strain that isn't usually
found in modern horror films, to be sure. The major in charge of the
military compound (Christopher Eccleston) posits that in some ways there's
nothing abnormal about the plague that has all but wiped out jolly old
England. His experience as a career military man has been that people kill
people, plain and simple. That, he observes, is all that's going on with
the infected who still linger here and there. When encountered, they are
summarily executed. He's right, on a philosophical level, perhaps. But
practically speaking, things are very different in the world of "28" than
they were before the Cambridge chimps were liberated from their cages and
allowed to spread their lab-created infection to homo sapiens. Daily life
has become a nightmare for all but the most military-minded. Even the
major's men are beginning to crack.
There's an original "Twilight Zone" episode called "Two." It stars Charles
Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery, and no one else. It's a simple story of
love's persistence even in the aftermath of a global holocaust. That's
where the heart of "28" is. Unfortunately, if most of us take love's
tremendous stores of power for granted, it follows that we put too little
stock in the darkness that constantly threatens to slip into our civilized
existence and devour us whole. That, too, is where the heart of "28" is.
Filmfodder Grade: A-