Animal rights activists break into a top secret laboratory to set free the animals held there. Unfortunately, they decide to release a chimpanzee that carries a deadly new virus called Rage... 28 days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakes from a coma in hospital to find the city of London apparently deserted - little does he know that the homicidal victims of Rage are at large across the country...
This British variation on the post-apocalyptic zombie movie was scripted by Alex Garland, whose book The Beach had previously been filmed by director Danny Boyle. But where zombies in other movies are slow and crave the taste of human flesh, the red-eyed zombies here sprint around at high speed and are satisfied with merely killing or spreading the virus through bloody vomit.
We are told that Britain has been evacuated, so only a few survivors remain to share the country with what's left of the infected population. The streets we see are deserted (there's a nice sequence at the start with Jim wandering alone through the city) and only occasionally will bands of marauding zombies emerge to pick off the uninfected, which makes you wonder where they go to for the rest of the time - the attacks aren't quite relentless enough in their frequency.
The vision of a devastated society is convincingly portrayed, with plenty of pop culture references and brand names to show what has been left behind. There is also nostalgia for lost families; in fact, the people Jim joins up with become surrogate families for him, whether it's with Brendan Gleeson's decent taxi driver and his daughter, or the rather more dysfunctional troop of soldiers headed by Christopher Eccleston. The soldiers, not much better than yobs, make it clear that now the culture is in ruins the violence inherent in everyone has broken through to the surface, infected or not.
Acting is at a very high standard all round, which helps the film through some of its wordy dialogue - especially the scenes where characters make grim speeches about their situation, which starts to sound like they're dictating their own autobiographies. The shot-on-video look seems a little fuzzy, but brings an immediacy to the action, and gives the violence plenty of grit and desperation. 28 Days Later is one of the welcome number of good quality British horrors that turned up in the early 2000s. Music by John Murphy.
British director, from TV, who started his movie career with two big homegrown hits: Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. His Hollywood efforts suggested he's better when based in the U.K., as both 2005's kids comedy Millions and the hit zombie shocker 28 Days Later were big improvements on his two previous features, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach. Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, then scripted Boyle's ambitious sci-fi epic Sunshine. Boyle next enjoyed worldwide and Oscar success with Slumdog Millionaire, the biggest hit of his career, which he followed with true life survival drama 127 Hours.