Movies: A Real (No) Sleeper Hit

A virus that infects carriers with murderous rage has been unleashed on England. In a matter of weeks, all that's left is a tiny population of sickies and a few fight-to-the-death normal folk. That's when our hero, a bike messenger named Jim (newcomer Cillian Murphy), awakens from a coma to find London a very different place from what he remembers. When "28 Days Later," a new thriller from England, arrives in the United States next week, take our advice and run to the nearest theater--just be forewarned that you might be running from it by the five-minute mark. The movie is that scary.

"28 Days Later," directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") from a script by Alex Garland (Boyle's "The Beach"), is a modern-day zombie flick, with an adoring debt to George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" and postapocalyptic novels such as John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids." The chief hurdle was the zombie itself, a lumbering horror-film archetype that has lost its punch over the years. "A while ago on 'South Park' there was a Barbra Streisand zombie," says Boyle, 46. "They've run the whole cultural arc from being scary to funny. So we had to reinvent them." To play his "infecteds," Boyle hired ex-athletes who could bring speed and power to the part. For budgetary reasons, he shot in digital video--a choice that paid off visually as well. "When DV cameras record fast motion, they kind of snatch at it," he explains. "It creates a tone of anxiety." DV also requires very little prep time, which helped with some of the film's most startling shots: Murphy wandering through a stark, empty London. They couldn't afford permits to block off streets, Boyle says, "so we went out at 4 a.m. and just asked people to stop. We employed a lot of pretty girls to chat up the drivers, and it worked."

Given the explosion of SARS, "28 Days Later" may seem eerily prescient here. But for Boyle and Garland, the movie reflects a vague anxiety they've lived with for years in England, thanks to mad-cow and foot-and-mouth diseases. "Our aim was to make a paranoid film," says Garland. "Something about a very dangerous exterior threat that turns out to be an interior threat. You think it's coming through the window, but in fact it's already in your room."

Movies: A Real (No) Sleeper Hit | News