Though a full-fledged, testosterone-driven, sex-and-violence-flick kinda guy, I have never been drawn to slasher/flesh-eating-zombie movies.
Gore has its place, mind you, but it should embellish a scene, not be the sole justification for its existence. Moreover, though many teens are titillated by endless recapitulations of nightmares wherein the innocent are relentlessly pursued by incarnated evil (Freddie, Jason) my Clearasil days are long past; my dreams taken up by more festive imaginings.
Therefore, nothing could have appeared less appealing than "28 Days Later?" For those who haven't seen the trailer, this guy wakes up in a hospital's isolation ward only to discover that everyone has disappeared; England is no longer either jolly or old.
Worse still, there are all sorts of creepy looking dudes you can't quite make out whether they're slashers or flesh-eating zombies hiding in the shadows fully prepared to pursue our favorite son until he is either sliced and diced or simply rendered lunch meat.
"But wait!" said I. "There may be more to this than meets the eye for it is directed by Danny Boyle, the filmmaker responsible for the critically acclaimed ?Trainspotting' (1996)."
There's nothing better for guys like yours truly than when significant filmmakers tackle genre flicks, particularly horror and science fiction. Consider the "Alien" franchise or John Carpenter's ultra-gory, fantastic (the unedited DVD version) remake of "The Thing" (1982).
Sure enough, there's much more to "28 Days Later?" than endless buckets of blood and guts taking the place of craft. To the contrary, Boyle knows how to generate tension and maintain pace. Plus he's got an eye for the visually startling.
The film opens with a bunch of self-described animal rights activists preparing to loose any number of primates from their tragically cruel confinement.
"Don't do it!!!" cries the lab tech. "They're infected."
They shoulda listened.
(I might add, I was at one with the apes. It seems the commercials preceding the coming attractions at the multiplex are longer than ever. The only way this differs from spam is that at the movie theater we pay to be deluged with the junk. Enraged you bet!)
But I digress.
Well, not entirely. As our boy Jim (Cillian Murphy) goes looking for sustenance the film's onslaught of product placements ensues. Given the lad's predisposition for a particular soft drink I'm surprised the film wasn't banned in Atlanta.
But since the flick is just getting rolling such things tend to be more of a distraction. By the time Jim seeks sanctuary in a church the director has captured our attention for the harrowing duration.
Shortly thereafter Jim meets Selena (Naomie Harris), the most interesting character in the film. Armed with a machete, Selena is a hack-first-ask-questions-later survivor in a world of virulent masticators.
As is common with sophisticated filmmakers such as Doyle, the power of symbolic imagery is acknowledged and well considered.
Selena's use of a machete is telling.
Recall the weapon's recent emergence in the subliminally racist film "Tears of the Sun." In that instance it is employed by a super-masculine African in the process of dispatching white missionaries. Innocent whites, a black man with a large machete get it?
Selena survives because she commands the machete. But, and this is noteworthy, when deprived of the weapon by captors wishing to have their evil way with her, she unhesitatingly takes command through aggressive sexuality. She attacks with what they intended to take by force. Very interesting!
In fact, the director's attention to psychological subtleties are precisely what make the film so textured and gratifying.
So much more than the brightly colored good vs. evil pap that dominates summer movie fare, the dark and foreboding "28 Days Later?" is defined by its moral ambiguities.
Though the living conditions of and experiments performed on the apes in the opening sequence are appalling, is the scientist wrong in his quest to rid humanity of that which enslaves it?
By the same token, are those who wish to liberate the apes not motivated by that which is noble in our species?
Is it murder if you kill in self defense or morally justifiable? Is it prudent to allow an individual to starve to death when it serves the larger good, or is it reprehensible?
When does a human cease to be human? Can a human cease to be a human?
If the human biological imperative is the continuation of the species are men morally wrong to force themselves upon unwilling women when our existence as a species hangs in the balance?
To whom do women placed in such a position owe their loyalty, the species or themselves? May they say, "No!"?
Commonly one does not leave a horror flick with an assortment of profound issues worthy of address. "28 Days Later?" is so much more than run of the mill.
Nevertheless, it is a horror flick.
By the time you get to the end of this gut-wrenching emotional roller coaster you'll turn your back on slasher/flesh-eating zombie schlock forever.
Celluloid memories: Speaking of rage, ever seen "the Stanley Kubrick classic "A Clockwork Orange" (1971), based on the novel by Anthony Burgess? A supreme example of a gifted, innovative filmmaker examining violence and sexuality in extremis, it is a superlative film for those with the strongest of stomachs. Malcom McDowell is brilliant, particularly when he is subjected to the sort of sensory immersion from which the apes are freed in "28 Days Later?" Although not quite as good a film, "12 Monkeys" (1995) is directed by another gifted, innovative filmmaker: Terry Gilliam. Bruce Willis gives a terrific performance. The film co-stars Brad Pitt and Madeleine Stowe (with her old lips) and is thematically similar to "28 Days Later?" Both must be seen uncut on DVD.