Contributor Gabriella Garbero is a fellow Redditor who thankfully helped out with Halloween Fifteen this year. She chose 28 Days Later, a film that helped to change the way zombie films were made – they don’t have to simply be the living dead shambling through the streets. They could be rage-fueled humans as well. Gabriella gets right to the heart of the film in her post below, and instead of co-opting this space, I’m going to let her expertly-crafted words stand on their own. Give it a read, and welcome Gabriella to The Moon is a Dead World.
In 2002, when the horror genre had run through any and all regurgitations of the teen slasher movie, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later came out and reinvented the zombie in film and popular culture. No longer did zombies amble around aimlessly and groan. They ran. Quickly. And they puked blood like a rabid animal. For the first time in recent history, zombies were creatures that you couldn’t outrun.
The film opens when a lab animal infected with a virus that a scientist simply calls “rage” spews blood into an animal rights activist’s mouth. We learn throughout the course of the movie that it is spreading an infection with a 20-second incubation period and it makes the infected into a deadly weapon intent on spreading the infection to anyone and everyone else. 28 days later, a man named Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma to find that London has been abandoned. He teams up with Selena (Naomie Harris), a no-nonsense chemist-turned-badass-warrior, and eventually Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and Hannah (Megan Burns), a father-daughter duo, join and round out their little makeshift family of survivors. Together, they travel through Britain looking for some semblance of civilization.
One of the most interesting things about 28 Days Later is its relative stillness and quiet. Instead of a high energy, action-packed film one would expect knowing it has zombies, 28 Days Later delves into the quiet moments between fighting that would happen in a real-life situation of the film’s scale. Most of the action happens in frenetic, minute-long sequences that are over before you can take a breath, so the breaks in action are welcome, but the downtime lasts so long that it keeps the audience on edge, much like the characters. Additionally, Danny Boyle filmed 28 Days Later on cheap digital video cameras to add to the grittiness of the story so it feels like we are experiencing things along with the characters, not being shown a cinematically flawless story. We experience the quiet parts and whispered conversations, which only makes the scenes with zombies more jarring.
Where 28 Days Later flourishes most, though, is in its frank discussion about humanity. The zombies are the unambiguous monsters of the story, and easily cause the most destruction and death. But what becomes of the humans left without the structure and security of civilization? If they do not act in a way that would be acceptable to society, does it matter if society is gone? More simply: Does it matter how you act when no one is looking? And furthermore, if so, can bad, inhumane things be done for arguably selfless reasons? And we see that the zombies are obviously and unapologetically inhuman, but when faced with total societal collapse, some of the humans encountered in the film do things that are simply inhumane. 28 Days Later forces us to ask ourselves if we could be any better.
In the end, the film does not give us easy answers to anything it asks. You can easily come to the conclusion that 28 Days Later’s main message is that people only act decently when society forces them to. But there is an almost imperceptible sliver of optimism that runs throughout the story. The idea that in the end, when there should be no hope, people can surprise you. The final visual message we see is a distress call meant to catch the attention of a plane or aircraft the characters are not even sure will come. Instead of saying “HELP”, the message says “HELLO”. It echoes the beginning when Jim first wakes up from his coma. He, too, shouted “hello.” Instead of wanting assistance, he wanted connection. Unlike the zombies, who only wanted to be near people to infect them, the characters in the end want to reach out and communicate. And that, the film assures us, is the essence of humanity.