Film * Danny Boyle * Zombies, But Fast * 2002
I’ve been trying to remember why I find zombies boring for a while now. My initial reaction is to blame oversaturation, which is responsible for the ruination of any good thing. ‘Oh, you like superheroes? What if two-thirds of all movies and television were about superheros? Perfect, because we’re doing that.’ Yet I really can’t think of that many zombie-things that I’ve watched/played/read that would turn me off the genre so fast. Also, the things that I have consumed I’ve generally really like. The Last of Us was a brilliant game. Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite movies. Even when I go back to watch things I’ve never seen, like the O.G. Night of the Living Dead, I totally don’t hate it. Case in point, 28 Days Later, which in ’02 caused quite a stir with its whole running-zombie thing. I remember seeing it back in the day and being impressed. I’ve not seen it since then, but it pretty much holds up.
Aside from the prologue, which I think is unnecessary, the opening 15 minutes or so are absolutely fantastic. A dude wakes up naked in a hospital. Nobody is around. He stumbles around for a little bit, calling for help, but no one is there. Eventually he finds some pants and goes outside. He’s in London, which helps me out because I’m a shameless Anglophile and London is my favorite city (I mean, in my limited experience. Maybe Kansas City is super-cool, but I’ve never been there) and a bunch of these shots were just like ‘hey, remember when you were here and it was awesome? What if there were no people though? That might be all right.’ So this guy bumbles around this deserted city and there are lots of nice travelogue shots, all of which highlight the absolute emptiness of what was normally a densely populated megalopolis. I’m not sure how they managed to get these shots – especially Piccadilly Circus and Westminster Bridge – but they’re spooky and evocative. It sets an eerie tone of desperation that resonates throughout the film.
Then the zombies show up, and they run fast, and contrast hard with the abandoned loneliness of one man alone in an empty London. There are a few survivors left, who fill our previously naked, nameless dude in on what’s happening. His name is Jim and has no idea what is happening and is not taking it well. Which is understandable. He finds out that the zombies are a product of an epidemic, called Rage, which has wiped out pretty much the entire country. The virus generally follows zombie-rules: if they bite you, you become a zombie too. The difference is it also follows virus rules. So if you get their blood or viscera in your system, you also become a zombie. Which means if you chop one up with a machete, make sure you keep your mouth closed. Anyway, Rage has spread throughout the population and it seems like everything and everyone is dead or zombified. Society has utterly collapsed and all that’s left is to run and hide from the zombie menace and try not to die.
I think my actual issue with the concept of the zombie apocalypse is that it’s pretty much the least plausible end-of-the-world scenario. Like, I’ll see these doofuses around town with dumb stickers on their idiot trucks which read “Zombie Apocalypse Task Force” and if I rolled my eyes any harder my skull would crack open. Once I saw such a decal on the back window of an old Dodge Neon, and then I was like, “all right, guy, that’s pretty good.” So that’s all dumb and obnoxious, but then I have to remind myself that I have always been in love with the fantasy genre, and that’s all the zombie apocalypse is. This probably explains why I like a bunch of it once I get in there. Besides, 28 Days Later is only doing what any good post-apocalyptic tale is doing: stripping away society and seeing what happens to individuals in the ruin.
The only constant in post-zombie London is death. It comes fast, and it’s unexpected. This, obviously, puts survivors on edge most of the time. Trust is hard won, because even well-meaning companions could mean death. With this in mind, the structure of the film is fairly easy to track. Once the lovely, haunting opening is over we’re left with two main characters, Selena and Jim. The entire rest of the film is about two encounters. The first encounter is when our two protagonists meet two other survivors in a block of flats. These two are good people, a father and daughter. They have little to offer, other than a glimpse of normality. Selena puts this bluntly: “they need us more than we need them.” As this encounter plays out, this statement proves both true and false.
As it happens, Frank and Hannah aren’t as hapless as they may have first seemed. Frank has a car and a radio, both of which are instrumental to leading to the second encounter of the film. Still, they’re not great fighters or survivalists to the point where Selena’s pronouncement is more or less true in a survival sense. In fact, discovering Frank and Hannah mostly leads to disaster. Had Selena and Jim gone at it alone, it’s possible they could have avoided the second encounter, which nearly leads to the ruin of them all. It certainly led to the ruin of Frank. However, there is still the human element to consider, and the film makes it very clear that Selena was on the brink of becoming an amoral monster. The simple father-daughter bond reminded her of her own humanity. Yeah, so she could learn to love again. I know.
So that’s kind of on the nose, but don’t worry there’s still a bunch of fucked-up zombies running around eating people. Also, there’s the second encounter, which is an illustration of the darkness of humanity. After Frank is turned and gunned down, Selena, Jim, and Hannah wind up in the hands of a small company of soldiers. These dudes are holed up in a fancy estate, have a fence and food, and seem to offer protection against the hoard. Of course this is too good to be true. It quickly comes to light that really all these soldiers desire are women. There is a high-minded mention of maintaining a future, but what this actually means is that they want a few sex-slaves on call. If one of them happens to be like thirteen, whatever! That’s super gross, but this whole second encounter is meant to be an examination of the darkness lurking within humanity, after all (also, I’ve never understood the trope that men will become literal sex maniacs if deprived of a woman’s touch for more than a few days. Like, it hasn’t even been a month and these guys are basically ready to rape a child because they’re so crazy with horniness. Are you kidding? A month? Look at these pasty, British motherfuckers. Even if society were intact, they’d be lucky to score once every six months, let alone every day. Whatever, movie).
Eventually, the soldiers make their move to straight up murder Jim so they can rape Selena and Hannah without feeling all icky about it. They miscalculate, and Jim goes fuckin’ nuts. Suddenly he’s all full of rage (the normal, non-viral kind) and is murking fools and setting traps and letting goddamn zombies loose in the house and finally he kills a man with his thumbs. Who’s the real rage zombie now, Jim? Anyway, this brutal murder of another human really turns Selena on, apparently, because they finally start making out. They kill everyone else, save Hannah, and run away. Also, it turns out that the apocalypse wasn’t worldwide, and the British Islands were simply quarantined. Hooray! Everything is great now! I mean, other than the 60 million dead people. Not so great for them. But everyone else? Yay!