Winter is just the worst. In a morning its dark and cold, in the afternoon its drab and cold, and in the evening its dark and cold again. Great. Mondays, however, are brilliant all year round, because Film Soc is here to make life good through the power of entertainment. Huzzah! This week we were feeling spooky, and the society voted to watch 28 Days Later, on of the greatest horror films ever made. I know you’re frothing with excitement, so let’s get on with the review! Remember, no biting…
The most important directors of zombie films prior to the 21st century were Victor Halperin and George A. Romero. These were the two that solidified zombies as a creature in the same vein as Dracula or Frankenstein. They were decently realistic, being that they were just humans physically, and they could in turn reflect whatever political or social event necessary for the times.
Post 2000, zombies were brought back into the mainstream through 4 screenwriters – James Gunn who penned the screenplay for the surprisingly good remake of Dawn of the Dead, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg who turned the genre on its head with the incredible Shaun of the Dead, and, most important, Alex Garland, who created the modern masterpiece 28 Days Later. Whilst 28 Days is definitely the most important zombie film (though director Danny Boyle still insists it isn’t a zombie film) since the original Dawn of the Dead, the other two get special mention for doing something truly interesting in a post 28 Days world.
After 28 Days Later was released, the filmmaking world changed. No longer could you put out a cheap zombie flick that would rake in money just because of the subject matter. Now you had to put in the effort – you had to do something great. This was all down to the fact that 28 Days basically ramped up everything – the tension, the fear, the danger. All of this was heightened to new levels that transcended everything viewers had seen before. The undead were horrifically dangerous and truly terrifying, creating scenes that had viewers sitting with their hearts in their mouths, waiting for the inevitable terror to turn the corner.
At first glance, Danny Boyle’s excellent horror flick looks a little cheap. It isn’t filmed in the same way as many other films – looking closer to a TV show than something to be shown on cinema screens. For most of the film we’re focusing on a tight group of characters, and a lack of music and long periods of silence make it feel somewhat odd in places. This, however, are all creative decisions that work to the film’s benefit. The cheap looking visuals are combined with some of the greatest cinematography in the history of film, creating the feeling of a world without the modern luxurious technology whilst showcasing the beauty that still exists within the newly crippled Earth.
From the opening scene, Garland opens us up to how these creatures work. They’re quick, they’re angry, they’re filled with rage, and the infection travels through blood and saliva. No more knowledge on the infected is really necessary, other than the fact that they’re friends, family and loved ones. They can be nameless faces in a crowd, or your best friend – but they’re ruthless. Garland consistently reminds us that, in infection, there is no prejudice, with a priest attacking Jim in a church filled with the dead. When looking at how narratives are put together, 28 Days is probably one of the greatest examples. The opening 15 minutes tells you all you need to know about the world without the need of any verbal exposition. When characters do start to interact verbally, its becomes closer to character development than exposition, allowing the audience to focus on the now rather than what happened 28 days prior.
One of the greatest achievements of 28 Days is the understanding that in modern filmmaking, fear doesn’t come as much from what you see but more from a consistent feeling of dread and hopelessness. When there is no hope, or hope beings to run slim, fear is elevated, and we begin, as viewers, to feel emotions that more accurately reflect the characters on screen. The Walking Dead does this excellently, giving you something to hope for and then dashing any semblance of faith by bringing your happiness to a gruesome end, usually through the death of a character. It works so well because it allows you to step into the shoes of the characters perfectly – you’re trudging along with them, and when they feel happy, when they find something to hold onto, you feel it ten times stronger.
Of course, its not all hopelessness and depression, and 28 Days combines this dread and sadness with raw entertainment. Each scene is put together to be, first and foremost, inherently entertaining. Filmmakers who think they’re smarter than the audience, for example the modern day Jean Luc Goddard, who seems to have risen from the ashes like a shit phoenix, put together films in ways which aren’t entertaining, and instead play out more like an experiment, not quite understanding that the best experimental films are also incredibly entertaining as well. Garland and Boyle respect their audience, and from that create a film that is still enjoyable to watch, and satisfies the viewer consistently
28 Days Later is a brilliant ride which tries to say a lot about the human condition in the form of a post-apocalyptic road trip. Its been emulated a thousand times since its release, but nothing comes close to the original. Its vital for any fan of horror to give it a shot – you might find the horror doesn’t come from the infected, but from the world around you. The sequel is quite good too.
Tomorrow in the world of Film Soc its Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Watch it and be blown away, because its pretty excellent.
See you there!
You can join the Film Society throughout the year, just check out their website page: http://www.leedsbeckettsu.co.uk/groups/film-society–11