Should a writer or director inject their politics into their movies? If it doesn’t interfere with the story and pace of the film, I think it is no big deal. The problem occurs when the politics detracts from the film. That is the main problem in the horror flick 28 Days Later.
Hailed as the return of the “Zombie” movie, director Danny Boyle and writer Alex Garland have created a picture on par with good horror movies like the early Friday the 13th films or The Ring. It is by no mean a great horror film like The Shining or–a film to which it was erroneously compared–the Exorcist. By the way, what is the deal with comparing every two-bit piece of fright schlock with William Friedkin’s classic? Remember how the move “Lost Souls” was dubbed “This generation’s Exorcist”? After watching that fiasco, I took a solemn oath to never see another Wynona Rider picture.
Anyway, 28 Days Later occurs in Great Britain, in which a virus that turns people into killer zombies is loosed on the population. After the virus ravages Britain, a bicycle courier named Jim wakes up in the hospital after being in an accident-induced coma. He is saved from a zombie attack by a woman named Selena. They later hook up with a father, Frank, and his daughter, Hannah. They find a radio broadcast that promises a cure to the virus and encourages them to come to a blockade near Manchester. Upon reaching the blockade, Frank becomes infected with the virus, and is about to attack the other three when the soldiers responsible for the broadcast show up and kill him. The soldiers lead Jim, Selena and Hannah to safety. The soldiers show Jim a zombie they have captured which they are using to learn about the virus. Later, the soldiers foil an attack of from a pack of zombies. Frank may be dead, but at least the other three are okay, right?
Alas, as is so often the case in the film industry, the military just can’t be a force for good. The soldiers set up the broadcast in the hopes of luring some women for a bit of nooky, the forced kind. So not only are the soldiers about to become rapists but, given that Hannah is only 14, also pederasts.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize that the military, like any other institution, has its bad apples. And sometimes its weaknesses can make for very good film, like A Few Good Men. Yet this is not one of those times.
After Jim refuses to go along with the soldiers’ diabolism, he is led out to be executed. He manages to escape, then kills three soldiers, and releases the captured zombie–who is nice enough to kill some of the other soldiers–in an attempt to rescue Selena and Hannah. So, a skinny bicycle messenger with no apparent military training who is not more than four days out of the hospital manages to subdue a bunch of well-trained British soldiers. Of course he has the help of a zombie, but that seems all the more unlikely given that this is a military unit that has become quote adept at fending off the foul things. (In addition, he kills one solider with the bayonet of rifle, and leaves it in the soldier. Wouldn’t that rifle have been useful in trying to defeat the other soldiers?)
This is made ironic if one views the alternative endings included in the CD version. On one such ending, Jim, Selena, Frank, and Hannah never encounter the soldiers. Frank still becomes infected, but Jim subdues him with a baseball bat. They take him too a hospital where they discover one of the scientists responsible for creating the virus. The scientist informs them that there is a cure for the virus, but it involves a full blood transfusion. In their commentary, Boyle and Garland suggested that this ending posed a big problem because you’d have to convince the audience that Frank’s infected blood was “drained out of every capillary.” In other words, it was too improbable.
So why did Boyle and Garland choose an equally improbable ending? Chances are it probably fit their stereotypes of the military. A bunch of thuggish soldiers willing to engage in rape given their just desserts by a scrawny geek–what could be more fitting?
28 Days Later might have been a great horror film had Boyle and Garland worked harder to come up with a fitting ending. Instead, they let their political views ruin it.