Animal rights activists break into a top secret laboratory to set free the animals held there. Unfortunately, they decide to release the chimpanzees which carry a deadly new virus codenamed Rage which proceed to attack them and set the infection loose across the United Kingdom... 28 days later, cycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy) awakes from a coma, caused by an accident at work, all alone in a hospital to find the city of London apparently deserted - little does he know that almost all of the population of the country has been evacuated, and now it's just him and the rampaging Rage victims left...
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, the man at the helm here and indulging his forays into genre works. 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, a point that became contentious within nanoseconds of the film's release, with many opining it was not a genuione zombie flick if the threat was neither dead or indeed slow.
While Britain has been evacuated, it is not the case that Jim is entirely alone to fend for himself, as a few survivors remain to share the country with what's left of the infected population who outnumber them significantly. The streets we see are deserted (there's a nice sequence at the start with Jim wandering on his Todd through the city, captured with typical Boyle ingenuity in the early, quiet hours of a summer's morning in the capital) and only occasionally will bands of marauding zombies (or whatever you cared to call them, that catch-all term was not for everyone) 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.
Nevertheless, this vision of a devastated society was 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 Naomie Harris's defiant prevailer, Brendan Gleeson's decent taxi driver and his daughter Megan Burns, or the significantly more dysfunctional troop of soldiers headed by Christopher Eccleston who show up in the story's latter half. The soldiers, little 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, leading to a fatalistic mood where brutality is a must to enable you to survive.
Acting was 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 seemed a little fuzzy (notably not carried over to the sequel, 28 Weeks Later), but brings a guerilla-style immediacy to the action, and gives the violence plenty of grit and desperation. 28 Days Later was one of the welcome number of good quality British horrors that emerged in the early twentieth century, but its social commentary was as much akin to the George A. Romero zombie tales as it was the drama of its native land, though most of what was drawn from it by what came after was the high speed of its mindless menace, bringing controversy about how to describe it that didn't really need to be part of appreciating what was a ripping yarn that built inexorably to a tense climax where the characters, as representatives of the nation, have to decide what kind of society they are, or will be. 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 and tricksy thriller Trance, in between staging the 2012 London Olympics to great acclaim. Business biopic Steve Jobs was a flop, however.