For the first 80 minutes or so, 28 Days Later is masterful horror. A sense of isolation has never been captured so well on film as a character the audience only knows as Jim (Cillian Murphy) walks through a deserted London cityscape. Sadly, this atmospheric pacing and eerie silence is thrown away for the finale, and the film as a whole falls apart completely.
The imagery captured by director Danny Boyle is truly special. The viewer really gets a sense the world as we know it is taking its final breaths. Jim’s quest to find other living people leads him to discover that after being left in the hospital during an accident, the planet has been overrun with a virus known as Rage.
It’s been stated many time that 28 Days Later is not a zombie film. For the most part, this is true. The few scares are paced sparingly, and the attacks are brief. It’s a sickness, not the living dead. That said, considering where the film ends up, it’s unquestionably a zombie movie.
As the survivors come upon a military hideout, loads of zombie movie clichés destroy the tension created by the earlier scenes of desolation. They’re trapped inside a building, they’re surrounded, the enemy lacks any real intelligence, and the victims of the illness have a taste for those not infected. That’s a zombie movie.
The script, written by Alex Garland, tries to add in some additional human drama to keep it fresh, but this fails as well. It’s a minor attempt to make a statement on humanity and a very plausible situation should an epidemic such as this occur. In terms of entertainment value and horror, it’s a dead stopping point.
However, 28 Days Later is still a success story. No other apocalyptic film has presented the scenario in this manner, or this effectively. It’s disappointing that it dissolves into a generic mess, yet this is a solid piece of horror taken as a whole.
Shot digitally and transferred to film, the quality of this transfer depends entirely on your viewpoint. With horrid edge enhancement, faded color, print damage, weak black levels, and a low resolution that makes this barely above the level of a VHS tape, 28 Days Later looks exactly like the director wanted it to. This disc captures that nicely. For a home theater presentation, this is as low quality as you’ll find from a major release. Whether or not that’s appealing is up to you.
In direct contrast with the video, 28 Days Later produces some great audio when called upon. The soundtrack fills the five speakers until the action picks up. Bass is superb and forceful. Gunfire rings out everywhere during an intense battle scene. Positional usage is frequent, and the separation nothing short of superb.
Extras are highlighted by three alternate endings, including one that was never shot and is read off a script while storyboards play. This conceptual piece would have skipped the military sequences entirely, though it leads to a far less believable conclusion. All endings come with an optional commentary, and the same goes for six deleted sequences.
A commentary with the writer and director goes into details about the shoot, and it’s especially interesting to hear how the scenes of Jim walking the deserted streets were handled. Pure Rage is a 20-minute feature that’s labeled a "making of" segment, though it’s more of a discussion about the scenario than the film itself. A nice photo gallery includes a commentary as to why they were taken (continuity mostly), while a promotional gallery includes trailers along with a music video.
A strong box office for this horror film led to a sequel in 2007, 28 Weeks Later. None of the main characters return, the director has been changed, and the scripting duties also changed hands. Expect that to be on DVD by the holiday shopping season, if not earlier around Halloween.