Have you noticed that I've waited rather late in this project to review a film as well-known and -received as 28 DAYS LATER? I'll let you in on a little secret: I put it off for so long because I never really cared for it, and was waiting until the proverbial last minute.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think Danny Boyle's 2002 film is bad; it's undeniably extremely well-crafted, sporting excellent cinematography--which captures a harsh, gritty feel that such a scenario might invoke--and score. When I first watched it, my initial reaction was that it was too sedate for a film about a rage virus, and perhaps that disappointment colored my viewpoint. Seeing it again, however, I'm left with the same feeling as before.
28 DAYS LATER has quite a following, not to mention a surprisingly warm critical reception (thanks to its filmmakers' pedigree), and I wouldn't want to "sway" people to my way of thinking, even if that were possible. Many of you dig this movie, and I've got no problem with that.
So let's call it personal preference, shall we? I think what ultimately did the film in for me the second time around was a consciousness of its similarity to previous films. (Okay, and maybe because the Infected aren't really the "living dead"--I'm an old-school purist, what can I say?) What seemed relatively fresh upon its release--especially to audiences not familiar with the films of Romero, or similar end of the world pictures like, say, THE OMEGA MAN--feels retread and tiresome at this point (then again, I've watched this plot unravel roughly 300 times in the last year). DAYS never strays far from the established apocalyptic formula--a rag-tag group of survivors, set-pieces involving run-ins with the Infected, and an oppressive military presence--though Alex Garland's screenplay takes an intelligent and credible approach.
What did I like about it? I thought the prologue set up a good n' bleak end-of-the-world feel, though the sequence implies a darkness (thematically and narratively) that it never quite fulfills. The tunnel sequence, easily the highlight of the movie, is another good scene, though I wish it had maintained the same style and tension throughout. (My, aren't I all about the backhanded compliments today?) Oh, and Cillian Murphy's first encounter with the Infected--in a church, no less--was great as well. I also thought Boyle handled the violence and gore admirably, getting rougher than a "respectable" director might go, yet exercising the right aesthetic restraint.
Yet despite Boyle's strong directorial eye DAYS never reeled me in, especially once the military steps in. Borrowing heavily from Captain Rhodes and crew from DAY OF THE DEAD, but without their toxic charisma, their portion of the film ground the story to a halt for me. (I'd also seen this type of army occupation done better in Brian Keene's THE RISING, though that novel came after Boyle's film.) Maybe I'd already anticipated the reveal that the soldiers weren't as altruistic as they first seemed, but I found myself growing steadily antsy. And the climax, in which the Infected are let in the compound to aid their escape, has nothing on the similar finale of Romero's DAY.
So, the verdict? 28 DAYS LATER is a good film that just didn't do it for me. Probably not something I'll watch very often, but a cerebral and skillful entry into the neo-zombie cannon.