Opens Fri June 27 at various theaters.
Because Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later is an ambitious movie, I will begin my review of it with an ambitious statement: All art aspires to arrive at the very core of the reality that has conditioned it. In a word, the mood of the times, the social climate of a specific place--this is what art strives hard to capture and reveal. For the simple fact that cinema is still the dominant art form, a film that succeeds in defining the very condition of its moment is nothing less than a major event. Suddenly the truth is not revealed to a privileged few (as is the case with the lesser arts), but to the masses.
No book or painting could have captured the late '90s better than The Matrix; no sonata or sculpture could have better captured the post-Iraq War 2 mood than X2. The same can also be said about Boyle's new film 28 Days Later. If X2 got to the terrifying heart of the days leading to our most recent war, then 28 Days Later got to the heart of SARS. True, SARS came about after 28 Days Later was made (2002), but the environment that made the disease all the rage for the better part of the first half of 2003 is the very same environment that makes 28 Days Later the best horror film of this, our time.
The main stage for SARS was Hong Kong, the former outpost for London, which is the main stage for 28 Days Later. After a brief scene in a lab, the movie begins in a hospital bed, with a patient (Cillian Murphy) who has just awoken from a coma. He was in our world (the positive world of international business, traffic, city lights) when an accident knocked him into a death sleep; he is in the other world (the negative, empty, lawless world that's ruled by the darkest forces) when he regains consciousness. In the space of 28 days, an incurable virus has turned his beloved United Kingdom into the heart of darkness. Even AIDS-ravaged Africa looks like paradise compared to this diseased and desolate former First World country.
The young man soon discovers that there are now only two races of people left: those who are infected by the disease that makes them raving mad, murderous zombies, and those who are not. The young man teams up with a young woman (Naomie Harris), a father (Brendan Gleeson), and his daughter (Megan Burns), and the four decide to leave the safety of a fortified apartment complex and follow a radio signal broadcasting from an army post based in Manchester. The signal promises protection from the zombies, but upon arriving at the army camp they discover an even worse enemy than the zombies of London--and at this point the movie, as happened in reality (in March of 2003), combines the fears of Hong Kong's SARS with the horrors of the British siege of Basra, Iraq. (Watch the movie and this interpretation will make sense.)
Though gory and scary, there are numerous beautiful moments in 28 Days Later, such as the scenes that are filled with the magnificent music of Fauré's Requiem. And there is also a lot of comedy, even during the darkest of moments. But most importantly, what Boyle attempted to do with The Beach (to detail the collapse of highly developed consumer society, whose needs and desires are serviced by a global network) is here successfully realized. Capitalist Britain finally falls, and what remains is a terrifying corpse that consumes nothing but itself. I'll be surprised if I watch a better film this year.