28 Days Later is director Danny Boyle's (The Beach) take on what is now an old standby in the horror genre: the zombie movie. Clearly inspired by films like Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later also drops elements of The Omega Man and Outbreak into the mix, resulting in a film that is as much about the survival of humanity in the face of its own creations as it is a horror movie in the traditional sense.
PETA Be Damned
The film opens with a group of animal rights activists infiltrating a London research lab with the intention of freeing the test animals, which are used in medical experiments. Holding a scientist at gunpoint, they open the cages that house research monkeys, despite the scientist's warnings that the creatures are infected with "Rage" - a manmade viral infection that spreads through the blood in seconds. One of the activists is bitten and immediately turns on her comrades, attacking them. Thus Rage is released on an unsuspecting London.
28 Days Later
In less than a month's time, Rage manages to almost entirely wipe out the population of London, most of England, and - presumably - the world. We learn this through the eyes of Jim (Cillian Murphy), a twenty-something bicycle messenger who awakens in the hospital from a coma caused by an auto accident. He finds the hospital deserted and disheveled and has no knowledge of the events that have transpired during his sleep.
Some of the most chilling moments of the film occur during these early scenes as Jim, unable to find anyone in the hospital, makes his way onto the empty streets of London. Boyle went to great lengths to completely empty sections of the city for shooting these scenes, and the effect is remarkable. The viewer gets a true sense of Jim's loneliness, fear, and desperation as he searches the once bustling city for any signs of life. The first survivors he finds are certainly not what he was looking for as he is attacked by several "infected" - the zombies of 28 Days Later.
As he runs from his enraged pursuers, he meets Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley), two survivors of the Rage epidemic who fill him in on what has happened. It seems that Rage is a blood borne virus which instantly turns the infected creature into a murderous lunatic. Carried by blood and bodily fluid, the virus is passed from one individual to another very easily when an infected person attacks someone. Jim sees the severity of this firsthand when Mark is bitten by one of the infected, and Selena brutally murders him before he has a chance to turn and attack his companions.
Frank and Hannah
Jim and Selena eventually come upon Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) who have been surviving in their London flat since the Rage outbreak. The father and daughter invite Jim and Selena into their home and share with them their plan to reach the source of a radio broadcast they have picked up, which promises an "answer to infection" and the protection of the army. The decision whether to go is the topic of some debate, but it is decided that the group will go, hoping that there really is an answer and protection.
The trip to the source of the recording is a harrowing one, requiring the group to fight against hordes of infected more than once. Finally arriving at their destination and finding it deserted, Frank is devastated and, in an irrational act of anger, becomes accidentally infected when a drop of blood falls from an overhead corpse into his eye.
The rest of the group does find the soldiers who had been broadcasting the message of hope but soon learn that it was a ruse. Major West (Christopher Eccleston) is the leader of this dwindling group of soldiers and has promised them women in an attempt to keep morale high. Selena and Hannah are the answer to securing his men's continued loyalty, but the soldiers have no use for Jim and plot to kill him. Jim escapes, thwarting his attackers' plans and returns to the mansion where the soldiers are holding Selena and Hannah, killing several soldiers in the process and allowing an infected access to the house. The three make their escape as the soldiers fall one by one, becoming infected themselves and attacking one another.
A Happy Ending
The end of the film shows us that Jim, Selena, and Hannah managed to survive and are living peacefully in the British countryside. Another 28 days have passed, and we assume that they may well be the last people on Earth, until they spot a military aircraft, signaling that the society they once knew would likely rise again, and civilization has not vanished entirely.