At first blush, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later would seem less than ideal viewing immediately after the birth of a child. After all, the splattery, post-apocalyptic film earned Boyle kudos for breathing new life into a subgenre largely thought moribund, namely the zombie movie. Babies and the living dead -- the two don't really seem to mix, do they? But Boyle does so much right with 28 Days Later that it becomes both excellent horror and great storytelling in general.
Just where does the movie excel? Well, it starts with a concept as focused as it is bleak. Bike courier Jim awakes after twenty-eight days in a coma to discover that London -- and presumably the world -- has become a depopulated wasteland. Former inhabitants have turned feral due to some sort of genetically engineered hemorrhagic fever that fills them with mindless rage. Grim stuff, and Boyle knows just how to stick viewers with unexpected shocks. While surveying a church sanctuary littered with bodies, Jim utters a tentative, "Hello?" at which two Infected heave up, mouths gaping with hideous, homicidal curiosity. Not all such scary moments are as subtle. A scene wherein a survivor named Selena kills a raging pair of Infected with a machete leaves the interior of a suburban home looking quite literally like a slaughterhouse.
Yet Boyle doesn't stay fixated on the horrible stuff. For every desiccated corpse and ravening monster, he inserts shots of aching beauty. A wind farm's propellers steadily slicing air. An orderly line of light posts punctuating a highway with a single car crawling on it. Jet contrails scoring an otherwise empty sky. Such images call to mind the beauty of an orderly civilization, and lest viewers miss the theme, Boyle includes telling bits of dialogue. "I was full of plans," Selene intones. "Have you got any plans, Jim? Do you want us to find a cure and save the world or just fall in love and [expletive]? Plans are pointless. Staying alive's as good as it gets." It's as hopeless a sentiment as any honest nihilist could express -- and utterly incorrect from Boyle's view. Later when Selena, Jim and a father and daughter escape to the countryside, they watch a pack of wild horses running free in the fields. "Like a family," the father says, and Selena privately admits to Jim, "I was thinking I was wrong. All the death. ... It doesn't really mean anything to Frank and Hannah because she's got a dad and he's got his daughter. I was wrong when I said that staying alive is as good as it gets."
This is, of course, what makes 28 Days Later the best sort of horror: It turns terrible stuff to serve a worthy theme. New life in a properly run society is a beautiful thing, and showing what results when it's lost only breeds appreciation for it.
(Picture: CC 2008 by _Ricky)