Wednesday, April 13, 2016

28 Days Later

28 Days Later
IFC viewing

Why do we love zombies? They've always been around in one form or another, long before Night of the Living Dead made them cool, but they seem to be on an upswing these days. The Walking Dead, of course, is a big reason why; a show so popular it has spawned a spin-off. I was a big fan of the original comic book for quite awhile, but I had to stop reading because it became painful to see all the crap Rick, the protagonist, goes through. No joke. So what is it about the flesh-eating legions of the undead that keep (most of) us coming back for more?

I think the roots of the answer can be found in 28 Days Later. The template for The Walking Dead can be found here, for starters: the zombies are scary, no doubt, but there's also a strong emphasis on the world around them, the devastation they've wrought and the cost in human spirit, and the capacity of the survivors to maintain a hold on civilization, specifically, which lines they will and won't cross to stay alive. All of that can be found here, in a film that makes George Romero's walking dead look like Teletubbies.

Technically, the "zombies" of 28DL aren't zombies in the traditional sense. One doesn't have to die and be reborn to be infected by the virus which changes humans into twitching, screaming freaks of nature. They only have to be exposed to their blood. The effect is the same, though, and by having them be able to run after their victims instead of lurch dead-eyed and lethargic, it ups the terror factor considerably. I remember how surprised I was at the concept when I first heard about this movie.

There's just something about apocalyptic scenarios that fascinates people. For one thing, it gives us a chance to speculate on how modern (Western) society would do when stripped of its creature comforts and forced to go back to basics like our primitive ancestors. It seems like we're always one step away from such a life anyway; I remember the avian bird flu scare from when I was living in Columbus and how that got people rattled. More recently, there was an ebola scare running around these parts. Whether it's by nature or man-made, epidemics of one sort or another are always threatening us on some level, though none have raised people from the dead (yet).

Zombie movies also let us confront our fears about mortality. Death is usually The End, but in this case it isn't; death means coming back as a monster that preys on the living, and that monster could be your lover, your family member or your best friend. How do you deal with that? How do you stand seeing your loved one suffer and knowing there's nothing you can do to ease their pain except kill them (again)? The challenge of 28DL and TWD is in finding a way to make life meaningful even in the face of utter hopelessness. That's a powerful metaphor.

Director Danny Boyle makes great use of cinematography to show the chaos of a zombie attack: POV shots, low-level camera angles and out-of-control, swirling shots that imply certain murderous acts taking place quickly and suddenly. The effect is disorienting. You wanna see what's happening, but at the same time you don't wanna see as well.

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