With all of the genre praise this pair of films have gotten, and a 2 DVD pack for pocket change, I finally checked these out. It is a mistake to call these horror films. The first is more of an intensely depressing drama while the later is a bit of a philosophical action flick. They are horror in the traditional sense of being disturbing and making us reflect on some of our dearly held presuppositions. They aren’t scary, even in the current shocking sense of the word. The highly stylized camera work that Danny Boyle is famous for seems to add a layer of artificiality that allows the viewer a detached, impartial viewing. We don’t care enough about the characters to be really sad about what we are seeing and we can’t make sense enough of what is going on to really be startled.
“28 Days Later” is the more traditional of the two, in that it is a commonly dealt with theme. What happens when society as we know it, and the security that we take for granted, simply disappears? This post-apocalyptic idea (or other stories similar to it, like “Lord of the Flies”), are infinitely fascinating and aggravatingly at the same time. They serve to criticize the way society currently is, but also help us see things for which to be thankful.
This film is known for pulling off a pretty spectacular presentation of London after the disaster, and for being one of the earlier depictions of a plausible “zombie” threat that is also really a threat. But that is not what makes this film one to discuss. In a post apocalyptic story, the loss is just the setting and the first consideration. What really makes them interesting is the search and struggle for a new society. Here that comes in the last act of the film when we meet the renegade military group under the leadership of Major West. As is usually the case, we discover that zombies are disturbing but humans are the really scary creature.
In both stories the downfall of humanity is brought on by scientific hubris. Whether that be the audacity of the scientists who created the virus in the first place or the holier-than-thou attitude of the activist who released it in the first film can be debated. In the second film, we have the well intentioned but ultimately poor decision to keep carriers alive in order to study their blood to blame for a wider spread. But, as always, it is the way society behaves and tries to control chaos that is the real head scratcher in these films.