Four Frames – 28 Days Later (2002)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally recognised magazine and website that shows film in a wider context. To tie in with Frightfest, The Big Picture is running a series of horror-related features and reviews. This piece is part of the Four Frames section, wherein the importance of four significant shots are discussed, in this case from Danny Boyle’s 2002 horror classic 28 Days Later.

The zombie film was, to excuse the pun, a sub-genre that had flatlined at the turn of the century.

Movies thrown together by hacks with low budgets and even lower ambitions had consigned the undead to the DVD shelves. What this sub-section of horror needed was an injection of life and British genre-spanning director Danny Boyle was the man to administer it.

28 Days LaterBoyle’s raw and unsettling 28 Days Later acknowledges its debt to George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy while striking out on its own with an all-too plausible apocalyptic nightmare that, as the director has argued, could happen next Wednesday.

Four weeks after anti-vivisectionists uncage an infected monkey from a research lab and unwittingly unleash the highly contagious ‘Rage’ virus, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakens from a coma in a deserted London hospital.

Confusion gives way to a queasy disbelief as he wanders the streets of a seemingly depopulated city that has evidently suffered some sort of cataclysm. A glance at a newspaper featuring the headline ‘Evacuation’ reinforces this, but Jim has no comprehension of the threat he faces.

28 Days LaterTo overcome the challenge of depicting an abandoned London, police closed roads at 4am to allow filming to take place, although only for an hour so as not to incur the Rage-like ire of drivers. The rewards can be seen on screen in what has rightly become one of modern horror’s most iconic scenes.

What gives the scene an even more resonant eeriness is its stillness. London has rarely looked more serene or threatening thanks to Anthony Dod Mantle’s urgent DV cinematography, while the escalating horror that Jim and the audience experience as he stumbles further into the city is amplified by Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s apocalyptic post-rock.

28 Days LaterThere are clever touches, such as when Jim feverishly picks up a pile of banknotes, little realising just how worthless they now are. Likewise, a shot of Jim dwarfed by a giant advertising billboard showing smiling, healthy models is a blackly ironic antithesis of what’s to come.

While the nods to the Dead trilogy are clear, the threat of infected, rather than undead, owes more to Romero’s cult classic The Crazies (1973), in which the citizens of a small American town are sent into a homicidal rage after being contaminated with an infectious disease.

The film is also heavily indebted to John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids, in particular when Jim awakens in the deserted hospital (a scene subsequently lifted by TV show The Walking Dead).

28 Days LaterJust as 28 Days Later has borrowed from past masters, so too have others stolen from Boyle’s horror classic, most notably the concept of the ‘fast zombie’ that has shown up in Zack Snyder’s Dawn Of The Dead (2004) remake, Zombieland (2009) and, more recently, the mega-budget World War Z (2013).

As the world entered a dark new chapter post 9/11, 28 Days Later’s horrific vision of a world turned upside down reflected our fears of just how precarious social order actually is.

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Debuts Blogathon: Danny Boyle – Shallow Grave (1994)

Debuts Blogathon

It’s the penultimate day of the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, and today Chris and I will be featuring the same review of Danny Boyle’s first feature Shallow Grave by Shah from Blank Page Beatdown. Shah’s great looking site examines trailers and features interesting reviews of new and recent releases from around the world, including some great Bollywood stuff. He also runs a section called Random Rants that, as the title suggests, sees Shah riffing about what’s currently setting the internet alight. Do make a point to check out his great site.

Danny Boyle

Shallow Grave (1994)

Danny Boyle’s body of work is pretty varied and diverse; he is one of the few directors whom I cannot label a hack. Quentin Tarantino is a hack; Guy Ritchie is a hack; J. J. Abrams is a hack.

Shallow Grave PosterI don’t mean this as an insult; those guys are some of my favorite directors, I just mean that most directors’ films will have some clear indications of the fact that it is their brand of cinema. This could be through style of cinematography (Tim Burton), similar subject matter and content (Tarantino), or unique technical execution, such as a plethora of lens flares (Abrams) that will clearly identify the director of the movie. The complete opposite is true of Danny Boyle.

Boyle is probably the only director whose movies reveal nothing of the man behind the camera, as no two movie are alike in theme, tone, style or even genre. From zombie apocalypses, to Bollywood extravaganzas, to drug induced piles of awesome, there is nothing that Danny Boyle cannot direct, apparently.

Shallow GraveThe Debuts Blogathon, started by Chris over at Terry’s Malloy’s Pigeon Coop and Mark from Three Rows Back, has allowed me a chance to visit Boyle’s debut as a feature film director in Shallow Grave and compare it against his now famous repertoire of film. Even though Trainspotting launched Boyle (and others) into cult fanatic status, Shallow Grave is where he started his path of originality and has stayed true to it ever since.

Shallow GraveShallow Grave is an easy story that goes places and requires little explanation. Three friends have to come to grips with the death of a new roommate, while being transformed due to the discovery of a suitcase full of money with the body. It’s never explained who the man was, or why he had the money; it doesn’t matter.

Shallow Grave stars Ewan McGregor in his first leading role as the jester with a heart of stone. Along with him is Christopher Eccleston, better known as (one of many) Dr Who, who is amazing as a soft-spoken bookish man, who’s traumatised by his experiences during the story. Eccleston steals the show, in my opinion, in  a performance with great range and depth.

Shallow GraveI say it’s an easy movie because the usual sequence of events don’t take place. There aren’t long drawn out moral conundrums about what to do with the money, or how to dispose of the dead body; they just do it and move on. What’s more interesting is the slow and steady transformation of mild-mannered David played by Eccleston. The brutal actions he takes part in, almost compelled to do so by his so-called friends, changes him dramatically. The movie focuses on the bonds of friendship when tested under unusual circumstances and challenged by greed and selfishness.

Shallow GraveWhile being his most mediocre film, it’s not difficult to see how this is Boyle’s first film. The ‘wow factor’ isn’t really present until the third act in terms of the story. Boyle’s usual aesthetics seem amateurish, with topsy-turvy camera work, even though it works for the story being told in this particular movie and is similar to how the rawness of the camerawork worked for a story like 28 Days Later. The Brit chemistry is on full display between the three main characters; just like Trainspotting, but to a lesser extent.

Shallow GraveLike most Boyle films, Shallow Grave does go deeper than what it gives you at face value. It goes to darker places while invoking emotion that bring you to the edge of the seat, at least in the final 10 minutes. The journey of the characters within the story follows the darkness exhibited by the lead in Boyle’s The Beach; however, nowhere near as extreme. The one thing consistent with Boyle’s other movies is the downward spiral the characters take throughout the film, and especially near the end, with intense consequences.

Boyle has become one of my favorite directors despite, or in spite of, his completely out-of-the-box style of filmmaking and interests. Every Boyle movie looks nothing like the last Boyle movie, which I think is more challenging than creating a trademark style evident in all of one’s films. Shallow Grave marked the beginning of an acclaimed career and it’s not difficult to see in this film how the talent behind the camera got more creative and stylistic over the years.

Tomorrow, the Debuts Blogathon reaches its conclusion with my thoughts of Steven Soderbergh’s Palme d’Or-winning Sex, Lies And Videotape, while Chris over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop will be examining Stanley Kubrick’s 1953 debut Fear And Desire. It’s been a fun ride, so please don’t miss the end!