The road to 28 Days Later isn't so much paved with good intentions, as with unimaginable consequences. As the film opens, we see scenes of social unrest, rioting, violence. This is not the plot's promised apocalypse, not yet. Rather, it is the television diet force-fed to an unlucky band of experiment monkeys, soon to be liberated by an equally unlucky band of animal-rights activists. The chimps, it turns out, are infected with the most virulent of blood diseases: rage. When the unheeding emancipators crack open the cages and a mad monkey munches down on the hand (and head and shoulder) that frees it, that's when the horsemen of the apocalypse leave the gate at a gallop.
Twenty-eight days later, a bicycle messenger wakes up from a coma in a deserted hospital in a deserted London. Hit by a car with cosmically bad timing, Jim (Cillian Murphy) has missed the end of civilization. Wandering aimlessly through the silent streets, he soon discovers that the only thing worse than waking up beyond Thunderdome is confronting a populace of red-eyed, blood-vomiting zombies.
Unless you have a fear of sanguinary upchuck, 28 Days Later is more unsettling than scary. Director Danny Boyle's unvarnished camera work -- married with the twisted ideas of screenwriter Alex Garland -- succeeds at creating chaos. Not since Boyle's Trainspotting has a film been so agreeable in its visual incoherence -- but unlike its witty, wicked predecessor, the extreme unconventionality of 28 Days Later is worth indulging only because of its visceral pay-off. Solid performances, particularly from Murphy and fallen angel-faced Christopher Eccleston, are all but lost in the maze.
And so, in the end, it's the little things that make this macabre movie notable: candidly hopeless graffiti in a church stairwell, artful shots of post-apocalyptic apartment buildings and grocery stores, the discovery of a suicide note on the back of an old family photograph. In spite of its insanity, 28 Days Later paints a fevered, very human portrait of what happens when the world ends and life doesn't.