28 Days Later is a 2002 British post-apocalyptic horror film directed by Danny Boyle. With a screenplay written by Alex Garland, the film stars Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns. Set in Great Britain, just after the turn of the 21st century, the story depicts the breakdown of society following the accidental release of a highly contagious virus and focuses upon the struggle of four survivors to cope with the ruination of the life they once knew.
A critical and commercial success, the film is widely recognized for images of a deserted London, and was shot almost entirely on digital video. The film spawned the 2007 sequel, 28 Weeks Later, as well as the graphic novel 28 Days Later: The Aftermath and a comic book series of the same name.
At the Cambridge Primate Research Centre, chimps are being experimented on with dissections and with videos of urban rage and violence. A trio of animal rights activists break into the laboratory where the chimps are being held to collect evidence of the inhumane experimentation, capturing a local scientist at the lab in the process. When the activists intend to free the chimps, the panicked scientist tries to warn the animal activists that the chimps are infected with a highly contagious virus he calls Rage, which is very dangerous and can be transmitted through just one bite. However, the activists ignore the scientist's warnings and release one of the chimps, which attacks and bites an activist before one of the others kills it. The bitten activist almost immediately begins vomiting blood and attacks the other activists and the scientist.
Twenty-eight days later, a man named Jim wakes up from a coma in an empty hospital. He ventures through the hospital, finding it deserted and rife with signs of chaos and unable to find anyone else there. Jim then leaves the hospital and heads out into Central London, finding the city is completely devoid of human life and rife with signs of a massive catastrophe - including a discarded newspaper that indicates Britain has endured a mass exodus, and a huge bulletin board covered with thousands of missing persons notices. Jim soon finds and enters a church which has been used as a mass grave and his filled with corpses. Jim finds people alive but odd-seeming in the church, including a priest who seems to be spasming and unintelligent and tries to attack Jim. Jim flees the church into the streets of London, with the raging people giving hot pursuit, when two survivors in gear rescue Jim by molotoving his pursuers and blowing up a nearby gas station.
The two survivors subsequently take Jim into their hideout in an abandoned sweetshop in the empty London Underground, where they introduce themselves as Mark and Selena. Upon learning from Jim that he has been comatose throughout the catastrophe that has apparently hit London, Selena explains to Jim that while he was comatose, a virulent virus which turns those it infects into raging, mindless killers in seconds (the "rage" virus from the Cambridge Primate Research Centre) has surfaced and spread uncontrollably, decimating and destroying Britain and possibly the entire globe and collapsing British society, and leaving most of the remaining population either dead or infected. Jim wants to go to his parents' home in Deptford to check on them, despite Selena's warnings they will most certainly be dead, but agree to accompany Jim once it is safe to go out in daytime.
The next day, Jim, Mark and Selena make their way across London to Jim's parents' home, where a devastated Jim finds his parents committed suicide during the Rage outbreak. Selena and Mark tell Jim he should be grateful his family died peacefully, unlike Selena and Mark's own families in the rage pandemic, and the trio subsequently decide to stay in the house for the night. That night, as Jim looks through the house, two infected arrive and attack Jim before Mark and Selena kill the infected. However, just after, when Selena notices Mark is injured and likely infected, she immediately hacks him to death with her machete and sets about leaving and heading back out into the city with Jim. As Jim and Selena head through the dark, empty city, Selena warns Jim that the virus takes over in seconds and that she will kill Jim "in a heartbeat" should he ever get infected, and also ruling out intimacy between the two. The two then notice flashing lights from an apartment in a nearby flat block and go to investigate.
Upon reaching the apartment block, Jim and Selena begin making their way up through the stairwell to the source of the flashing lights, when two infected arrive and pursue the two up the stairs. They are saved by another survivor, Frank, who fights off and kills the infected and leads Jim and Selena into the sanctuary of his flat, where the lights were coming from and where Frank and his daughter Hannah are holed up. Frank is thrilled to have new guests in Jim and Selena, and warmly welcomes the two in and even makes a toast in celebration. The next day, Frank discusses resources with Jim, and reveals that they haven't managed to get any new water without recent rainfall, and that with resources dwindling they can't afford to stay at the flat block for much longer. Frank shows Jim and Selena a repeating military radio broadcast which claims that there are soldiers offering other survivors protection at the forty-second blockade outside Manchester and who have "the answer to infection." Frank wants to cross-country to the blockade in search of the soldiers' protection, though Selena is sceptical that they'll find anything there after all the devastation that the Rage infection has wrought upon the country.
The group subsequently take Frank's taxi to travel across England to Manchester, and they drive through a dead-filled London. The taxi suffers a flat tire while they group are driving through a tunnel beneath the Thames, and the group are attacked by infected in the tunnel but narrowly escape when they quickly replace the taxi's flat tire and drive out. The group afterwards stop at and happily and humorously raid a London supermarket for food, before continuing on their journey to Manchestre, leaving London and driving into the countryside. At one point, the group have to stop at a rural burger shack to collect petrol to refuel the taxi, and while they are there, Jim is attacked by and kills an infected little boy when he is alone. The group afterwards resume the drive across the country, until eventually they stop at an old castle ruin in the countryside for rest, and Selena has begun to soften up and admit her ruthless, steely resolve was wrong, while Jim begins to toughen up from his experiences. As night falls, the group set up camp for the night at the ruin, and Jim has a nightmare of his worst fear - being alone.
The next day, the group resume their journey in Frank's taxi, and reach the forty-second blockade to find Manchester burning and destroyed and the blockade ruined and abandoned with no signs that the military there who sent the radio broadcast are still alive. Frank is left angered and upset that they haven't found the help they travelled so far for, and when he tries to vent by getting rid of a crow, a drop of blood from an infected corpse lands in Frank's eye and infects him. The infection begins to overwhelm Frank as Hannah watches in horror and Selena screams at Jim to kill Frank before he kills them. Just as Jim is about to kill the infected Frank, surviving soldiers suddenly arrive and shoot and kill the infected Frank as the remaining three survivors watch in shock and grief.
The soldiers subsequently take Jim, Selena and Hannah through the nearby woods to their base at a secluded mansion which they have fortified against the infected. There, the soldiers' commander, Major Henry West, gives the remaining three shelter and protection with the soldiers at the mansion and brings them in. At the mansion with the soldiers, Hannah is left grieving over losing her father, and Selena in turn begins to lose hope and tries to reach out to Jim romantically. Jim goes to Major West about what's going on, and West shows Jim around the mansion and introduces him to several of the soldiers - including the nerdy, wimpy cook Jones; and Mailer, a soldier who was infected and is being kept chained up in the mansion's courtyard for study. Major West explains to Jim that he intends with his soldiers to rebuild the human race and civilisation, and that the "answer to infection" that West promised in the radio broadcast is to wait for the infected, as creatures which now nothing but rage towards the uninfected and have no proper survival instincts, to starve to death.
The following night, Major West and the soldiers hold a dinner with the three survivors, where the soldiers discuss their differing views on the state of normality and whether or not they will ever see normality again in the aftermath of the Rage outbreak and whether or not the post-outbreak world is any different to the state of normality. The dinner is cut short when the infected launch an attack against the mansion and the soldiers leave to successfully fend the infected off. Afterwards, one of the soldiers, Mitchell, tries to force himself on Selena until Sergeant Farrell violently gets him to stop, and Major West subsequently takes Jim aside to talk to him in private. Major West confronts Jim about who he has killed since the outbreak to have survived, and Jim regretfully admits to killing the infected child at the burger shack. Major West in turn explains to a horrified and disgusted Jim that he has promised his soldiers women for sexual slavery to give them hope and to repopulate the world after the infected starve to death. Realising what this means for Hannah and Selena, Jim tries to escape the mansion with them, but the three are stopped and captured by the soldiers.
When Jim refuses to join Major West because of what it means for Selena and Hannah, West has Jim locked up in the cellar for execution in the morning, along with Sergeant Farrell (who disagreed with Major West's plans for the women and tried to help them escape). There, Jim overhears Farrell theorise that in actuality there is no global pandemic of infection and that Britain has been quarantined and the rest of the world is continuing normally, which in turn gives Jim hope. The next day, Mitchell and Jones take Jim and Farrell round to a body dump outside the mansion for execution, and as Mitchell and Jones are distracted arguing after killing Farrell, Jim manages to slip away and escape over the mansion perimeter from the soldiers, who decide to leave him out in the infected-filled woods to die. As Jim escapes into the woods, he sees the contrails of a jet flying overhead, giving him further hope that Farrell's theory that the world outside of Britain is still functioning was correct. Back at the mansion, the soldiers begin aggressively preparing a captive Selena and Hannah for rape the following night by forcing them into red dresses to appease them, though Selena manages to give Hannah sleeping pills to make the experience less traumatic for her.
Jim returns to the abandoned military blockade and sounds the siren to lure Major West and the soldier Davis out to the blockade to investigate the disturbance. As West and Davis search the blockade for Jim, Jim stealthily skulks around and stalks them, ambushing and killing Davis and disabling the jeep West and Davis arrives in. Major West then flees the blockade and heads back through the woods towards the mansion on foot when infected begin coming and attacking the blockade. Back at the mansion, as the soldiers prepare to rape Hannah and Selena and await Major West's return, Jim returns in the mansion grounds and frees the infected Mailer, who breaks into the house and begins attacking the soldiers, infecting Clifton and chasing Jones around the mansion. As the two infected soldiers rampage through the mansion and begin killing off the uninfected soldiers one-by-one, Mitchell takes a hostage Selena with him through the mansion in search of safety from the infected, while Hannah escapes from the soldiers into the house in the chaos. At the same time, Jim enters the mansion, killing Jones, and skulks through the mansion in search of Hannah and Selena while also evading the rampant infected.
While Hannah evades the infected Clifton, Jim tracks Selena and Mitchell down as Mitchell locks Selena and himself in a room from the infected. When Mitchell tries to rape Selena, Jim goes into a rage and attacks, taking Mitchell by surprise by brutally beating the vicious soldier to death. A stunned and horrified Selena, thinking Jim is infected because of what he's just done, readies her machete to kill him, but she hesitates, and Jim notes this and reveals he isn't infected, and the two kiss. Hannah then arrives and regroups with Jim and Selena, and the trio flee from the overrun mansion into the grounds to escape in Frank's taxi; but there they encounter a vengeful Major West, who shoots Jim in the stomach for killing all his men. Hannah commandeers the cab and backs it up to the front door with West inside, where the infected Mailer drags West screaming out though the rear window and back into the house. Hannah, Selena and a mortally wounded Jim then escape and drive off in the taxi as Mailer rips Major West apart.
Another twenty-eight days later, a bandaged Jim wakes up in recovery again, this time in bed in a remote cottage in Cumbria where Hannah and Selena have taken refuge and made home. Downstairs, Jim finds Selena sewing large swaths of fabric to make letters for spelling out a message, when Hannah alerts them that a European surveillance jet is coming. The trio rush outside and unfurl the last huge cloth banner, adding the final letter to the word "HELLO" laid out on the meadow. As an approaching Finnish military jet flies over the landscape towards their location, a pair of infected are shown lying helplessly in the road, dying of starvation, proving that just that part of Major West's "answer to infection" was correct. The jet flies over the three waving survivors and their giant message, and the radio of the jet can then be heard saying "Lähetätkö helikopterin? (Will you send a helicopter?)" as the jet flies off. Selena turns to Jim and wonders aloud, "Do you think he saw us this time?"
On the DVD, director Boyle explains that, with the aim of preserving the suspension of disbelief, relatively unknown actors were cast in the film. Male lead Cillian Murphy had at the time starred primarily in small independent films, while female lead Naomie Harris had acted on British television as a child. However, actors Christopher Eccleston and Brendan Gleeson were somewhat well-known character actors. Eccleston, who went on to greater fame for his portrayal of the Ninth Doctor in the 2005 series of Doctor Who, had already appeared in films such as The Others, Gone in 60 Seconds, eXistenZ and Shallow Grave (another film directed by Boyle). Likewise, Gleeson had appeared in several films, including Braveheart, Lake Placid and The General.
The DVD extras include three alternative endings, all of which end with Jim either dying or getting infected. Two were filmed, while the third, a more radical departure, was only storyboarded.
Jim dies at the hospital
In this ending, after Jim is shot, Selena and Hannah still rush him to the deserted hospital, but the scene is extended. Selena, with Hannah's assistance, attempts to perform life-saving procedures but cannot revive Jim. Selena is heartbroken, and Hannah, distraught, looks to her for guidance. Selena tells Hannah that they will go on; they pick up their guns and walk away from Jim's lifeless body. Selena and Hannah, fully armed, walk through the operating room doors, which gradually stop swinging.
On the DVD commentary, Boyle and Garland explain that this was the original ending of the film's first cut, which was tested with preview audiences. It was ultimately rejected for seeming too bleak; the final exit from the hospital was intended to imply Selena and Hannah's survival, whereas test audiences felt that the women were marching off to certain death. Boyle and Garland express a preference for this alternate ending, calling it the "true ending". They comment that this ending brought Jim full circle, as he starts and finishes the story in bed in a deserted hospital.
This ending was added in the theatrical release of the film beginning on 25th July 2003, placed after the credits and prefaced with the words "what if..."
Rescue coda without Jim
This ending, for which only a rough edit was completed, is an alternate version of the potential rescue sequence shown at the very end of the released film. Here, the scenes are identical, except that this ending was intended to be placed after the first alternative ending where Jim dies, so he is absent. When Selena is sewing one of the banner letters in the cottage, she is seen facetiously talking to a chicken instead of Jim. Only Selena and Hannah are seen waving to the jet flying overhead in the final shots.
Radical alternate ending
The "Radical Alternative Ending" was not filmed and is presented on the DVD as a series of illustrated storyboards with voiceovers by Boyle and Garland. This ending would have taken the story in a radically different direction from the film's midpoint. When Frank is infected at the military blockade near Manchester, the soldiers do not enter the story. Instead, Jim, Selena and Hannah are somehow able to restrain the infected Frank, hoping they will find a cure for the virus nearby as suggested in the radio broadcast. They soon discover that the blockade had protected a large medical research complex, the same one featured in the first scene of the film where the virus was developed.
Inside, the party is relieved to find a scientist self-barricaded inside a room with food and water. He won't open the door because he fears they will take his food, although he does admit that the "answer to infection is here." Unfortunately, he refuses to talk further because he doesn't want to make an emotional attachment to people who will soon be dead. After hours of failed attempts to break through the door or coax the man out, Jim eventually brings Hannah to the door and explains Frank's situation. The scientist reluctantly tells them that Frank can only be cured with a complete blood transfusion, and supplies them with the necessary equipment. After learning that he is the only match with Frank's blood type, Jim nobly sacrifices himself so that Frank can survive with his daughter. Just as his journey began, Jim is left alone in the abandoned medical facility, and Selena, Hannah and Frank move into the room with the scientist as a horde of Infected breach the complex. Strapped to the table as the chimp had been in the opening scene, the computer monitors showing death and destruction come to life around a thrashing, infected Jim.
Garland and Boyle explain that they conceptualized this ending to see what the film would be like if they did not expand the focus beyond the core four survivors. They ultimately decided against it because the idea of a total blood replacement as a cure was not credible, especially because the film had already established that a single drop of blood is enough to infect a person. Boyle said in the DVD commentary that this ending "didn't make much sense" since one drop of blood can infect a person: "What would we do? Drain him of blood and scrub his veins with bleach?"
There are six deleted scenes and one alternate scene from the film, which are available on the 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD release of the film.
Additional footage of Jim walking through the streets of the abandoned city of London after waking from his coma.
When Jim, Mark and Selena are walking on the Docklands Railway on their journey to Jim's house, they come across a wrecked hospital train and investigate. Inside, Jim finds a mobile phone, but there is no reception, and Mark talks to him about how it feels knowing that nearly everyone else is dead.
On Jim, Hannah, Frank and Selena's journey out of London and to Manchester, shortly before they enter the tunnel that goes under the Thames, a flyover with smashed and wrecked vehicles on it can be seen. The filmmakers never used the CGI effect to remove the moving traffic on the flyover; thus on the DVD, moving traffic is on it.
On their journey to Manchester, Jim, Selena and Hannah all take turns driving the cab and acting out the character of a talkative taxi driver.
The Infected in the House
In an alternate take of Private Jones' death, when he runs to the front of the Worsley House to flee the mansion, instead of being stabbed by Jim, he sees hundreds of Infected running across the mansion lawn towards the house. The Infected pour into the mansion, overwhelming and killing Jones. Jim then sneaks into the house and around the Infected that are distracted with killing Jones. Also, when Major West returns to the mansion shortly after, the infected Clifton arrives and charges at West, forcing him to kill Clifton. Mitchell and a captive Selena, meanwhile, search for a safe room to hide in, but find the cellar swarming with Infected. West bolts a door shut to stop the Infected on the other side getting to him, and an infected woman comes up to the door and snarls through the glass at West.
While Jim searches Worsley House for Hannah and Selena, he hears the infected Mailer and Clifton approaching, and avoids them by hiding under the floorboards.
Due to the film's success, it has spawned several parodies and has been spoofed several times.
- The 2003 film, 48 Hours Later, follows the same basic plot as 28 Days Later; a man awakening to a plagued world.
- The 2005 Malaysian film 28 Hours Later relocates the basic plot of 28 Days Later to Kuala Lumpur.
- At the end of the 2004 zombie film Shaun of the Dead, a television broadcaster can be heard mentioning that there were reports that the zombie phenomenon was caused by rage-infected monkeys.
- The Flood from the Doctor Who episode, The Waters of Mars, share several similarities with the Rage Virus from 28 Days Later; both take over an infected host in seconds, causing the host to spasm as they do so. Also, both Rage and the Flood cause their hosts' eyes to change colour, and both viruses cause their hosts to exhude a liquid containing the virus from their mouths.
- In Episode 10 of Mongrels, the scenes in which the character Destiny is stalked by zombified dogs in a Dawn of the Dead-like fashion, the piece of music, In a Heartbeat, is used during the scenes as a reference to 28 Days Later.
- The Don't Have a Cow, Mankind segment of the Simpsons Halloween special Treehouse of Horror XX parodies 28 Days Later.
- In the radical alternate ending, it was revealed that the Rage Virus had managed to spread from Great Britain throughout the entire world; but after the makers of 28 Days Later decided upon the Rescue Coda and Jim Dies at Hospital endings, this was changed to have it hinted (and confirmed in 28 Weeks Later and the 28 Days Later comic series) that Britain was quarantined and that there was no global outbreak.
- When the crew finished filming the scene at the Worsley House which ended with Hannah driving Frank's taxi through the gates, their budget for the film literally ran out, so they decided to end the film with this scene. However, Fox Searchlights were not satisfied with this ending, so they gave the production crew a high enough extra budget to film the "Rescue Coda" and "Jim Dies at Hospital" endings.
- When Jim is walking through London, there is a shot of Big Ben and the clock face reads 8:15; however in the next shot the clock appears to read 6:40.
- In the first shot of Centre Point at Tottenham Court Road, only one lorry is parked beneath the building. In the next shot, slightly closer up, a second one is parked in front of the first.
- In the shot which shows Frank's taxi driving by a meadow after the group has raided a supermarket on their journey to Manchester, it can clearly be seen that the flowers in the meadow are a painting.
- In a shot where Frank's taxi is travelling along a motorway on the four survivors' journey to Manchester, if one looks closely, another car can be seen driving along an intersecting road.
- The 42nd Blockade is supposed to be situated on the M602, northeast of Manchester. However, the motorway signs at the blockade indicate that it is on the M6, which runs to the west of Manchester.
- After Frank is killed at the 42nd Blockade, in the shot where one of the soldiers who killed him walk up to his corpse, a cameraman can clearly be seen in the corner of the screen, by one of the blockade's walls.
- When the soldiers are stripping Selena in the bathroom, Mitchell can clearly be heard speaking numerous times despite the fact that Davis, Clifton and Bedford are the only soldiers present.
- When Major West finds Jones, the latter is lying directly in front of the front doors of the Worsley House. But when the infected Mailer kills West, Jones' corpse is beside the front doors to the right.
- When Jim kills Mitchell by pressing his thumbs into Mitchell's eye sockets, if one looks closely, it can be seen that Cillian Murphy is just pressing his thumbs against the flesh below Ricci Harnett's eyes.