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28 Days Later

Undead again

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It's the end of the world once again, and as usual, a few good people have survived the latest apocalypse to search for other desperate survivors like themselves.


Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up naked and alone in an abandoned hospital and soon wanders onto the streets of an abandoned London. At home, he finds his parents lying side by side in bed after a suicidal overdose, clutching a childhood photo of their son. Selena (Naomie Harris), armed and very dangerous, knows what happened to the world. Frank (Brendan Gleeson) lost his wife, but he still has daughter Hannah (Megan Burns). And so these four set out for Manchester when they hear a radio broadcast promising safe harbor at a military outpost run by a gentle commander (Christopher Eccleston) who nonetheless knows what it takes to get his job done.


In 28 Days Later, the Scottish director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and the British novelist Alex Garland -- who wrote The Beach, which Boyle filmed with Leonardo DiCaprio -- work their way through a familiar living-dead scenario pocked with digestible metaphor: A blood-born virus turns people into killer zombies within 30 seconds of infection, and now that the world has apparently been wiped out, Jim and Selena (he's white, she's black) have to form a new sort of family, if only to endure the ultimate horror of loneliness.


At the outpost, though, it takes them a while to realize what we see right away: If life on a decimated Earth is to mean anything more than surviving one day at a time, then someone will have to repopulate the earth. Now let's see, who might that be? An exhilarating battle against a rush of zombies naturally stokes the machismo and testosterone of the horny army boys, who immediately get grabby with Selena and Hannah, the only two Pretty Pollys they can find.


Boyle trades mostly in sensational hip modern cinema, and 28 Days Later provides no exception. He and Garland -- who probably dreamed up this movie on the set of The Beach, waiting for Leo to get off his cell -- chose to make an action/effects thriller instead of a more disturbing idea movie. Their crumbs of mundane philosophy come in spurts, so as not to alienate their core audience (teen-age and 20-something boys), and their movie ends rather happily, if smiling faces are any indication.


Still, 28 Days Later is a sharply filmed little waste of time, reminiscent of Pittsburgh's hometown favorite, Night of the Living Dead, and also of the Australian doomsday drama The Quiet Earth, a more complex and original piece of science fiction. I found myself enjoying its efficient suspense as I waited for Boyle and Garland to latch onto something more satisfying. But every time they turn a corner, there's an infected zombie around it, or at best, a quick interesting exchange that leaves you wanting more. AAb (2 and 1/2 projectors)

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