DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of 28 Days Later, Cabin Fever, War of the Worlds , Pulse


Title:  28 Days Later

Release Date:  2003

Nationality and Language: English, UK

Running time: 108 Min

MPAA Rating:  R

Distributor and Production Company:  Fox Searchlight

Director; Writer: Danny Boyle


Cast:   Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Christopher Eccleston

Technical: DVCam

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 This whirlwind horror thriller comes from Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting. But what matters to me is the issue of screenwriting an “end-of-the-world” movie. Particularly because I am working with a literary agent on a manuscript called “Tribunal and Rapture,” where the story line is basically the same. There is a novel virus that threatens civilization with “purification” and a road trip by survivors building new personal lives (or, in my case, repairing old ones). My road trip happens before “Armageddon” as a kind of preparation.

 Here, however, Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up wired to IV’s and electrocardiographs, to find his hospital and then all of London deserted. So it has already happened, a done deal. And that may be a problem, because I want more than newspaper stories and second-hand accounts of how the “anger virus” (apparently a government experiment gone wrong) got out and spread. I’d want to see the media accounts and how the government responds, in analogy to real life histories of AIDS, SARS, or anthrax, or putative bioterrorism incidents. Boyle skips this and concentrates on a somewhat closed story of a few survivors, who make a road trip to Manchester on receiving a signal. Oh, the virus victims don’t die instantly; rather they develop chorea, a raging lunacy until they starve to death. When they reach Manchester and find an armed camp of more survivors, Boyle does have the chance to explore more politics. One of the infected victims is kept as a guinea pig, and the military leader, who gives hints of homosexual interest in the rather charismatic Jim, comes up with the idea of offering his men a “future” with two female survivors. At the end, we learn that mankind may have survived elsewhere after all.

 This is effective, linear storytelling and pretty riveting, but it lays aside the more political questions of how to deal with bioterrorism or environmental accidents. Stephen King, remember, took this up with his gigantic novel The Stand, (1978, 1990) that became a TV miniseries in 1995.

 The movie now offers an alternate ending. It's easy to imagine several catastrophic alternates.

This film should not be confused with the 2000 film "28 Days" directed by Betty Thomas, with Sandra Bullock, to be reviewed later.

Cabin Fever, from Lions Gate Films (2003), directed by Eli Roth (with Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, Joey Kern, Cerina Vincent, James DeBello and Giuseppe Andrews as Deputy Sheriff Winston, filmed mostly in North Carolina, is a curious combination of comedy, Blair Witch, and 28 Days. A bunch of young adults go on a warm fall weekend in the Carolina Piedmont and run into the Ebola virus, I guess. (Oh, maybe its just Marburg virus instead. I need to see the Shepherd’s crook under a microscope.) The picture does present a chilling preview of how a biological Armageddon (whether or not planted by terrorists) really could start. Widescreen but apparently in DVCam. Andrews is really comical as the partying deputy sheriff, a throwback to J W Pepper from the James Bond movies. Interesting use of flashbacks, even from an attack dog’s point of view.

War of the Worlds (2005, Paramount/Dreamworks/Amblin/CW, dir. Steven Spielberg, 116 min, PG-13) is a re-adaptation of the famous H.G. Wells novella, which had been filmed before as the 1953 classic directed by Byron Haskin (also Paramount). Of course, in the 1930s Orson Welles created havoc with his famous fictitious radio broadcast about the descent of aliens at Grovers Mill, N.J.

I saw this in a National Amusements theater in northern Va., and noticed immediately that the film was shot in a standard 1.85 to 1 rather than the full widescreen, which I had expected for a high profile summer film. Theater management confirmed to me that the film was “flat” and not “scope.”  The film, as a whole, had the effect of a continuous take 50s style horror flick, and smaller than what I had expected from Spielberg (who often shoots his films flat). The story, though, gradually involves its blue collar “average Joe” protagonist Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise Malpother) into ever closer encounters with the mean aliens. A deadbeat dad, he has returned to his northern NJ abode to make amends with his teenage son Robbie (Justin Chatwin) and little daughter Rachel (Dakota Fanning), by taking them to his ex-wife (Miranda Otto). Cruise, in his early forties, looks a biological 28, and he is perfect here. Since his work in the past ten years or so has been increasingly challenging intellectually (Eyes Wide Shut, Minority Report) it’s interesting to speculate on the layers of meaning underneath this simple tale.

I guess most people know the basic story. Morgan Freeman provides the opening and closing narration, and we all know that the alien creatures die because of lack of immunity to earth-bound microbes—we have earned the right to survive and they haven’t. The beginning of the film is fascinating. Robbie is catching news reports of lightning storms in the Ukraine. Suddenly, there is a dry lightning storm over north Jersey. It’s odd weather for late November. The setting of the film here is almost dogma-like, with middle class rowhouses, an elevated freeway, a huge bridge, a church, and so on. The wind is blowing into the storm, and there is no rain. There is an (Electromagnetic Pulse) EMP effect, as all cars fail (except Ray’s stolen car, which must have had some kind of Faraday cage shielding). Oddly, at least one camcorder works, too. Soon, pavement buckles, there are earthquakes, and buildings (like the church) break apart and elevated freeways fall down. The lightning bolts (cloud to ground) awaken the tripods, which are huge stompers housing the aliens who traveled down the bolts. Ray takes his family on the odyssey, up north towards Boston. He is carjacked as he approaches a ferry. Soon, we are in a fend-for-yourself world where the only virtue is a man’s protecting his family from a hostile world. That seems to be one of Spielberg’s points. Robbie runs off, to join the National Guard, it seems, so the second half of the movie the drama gets simpler, as Ray comes into contact first with the probes from the tripods and then the arthropod monsters themselves. (The codger Olgivy, played by Tim Robbins, tries to shield them for a while.) The world becomes a garish wasteland, T.S. Elliot style (this is no love song for Prufrock), and covered with blood, as the monsters apparently abduct people, strip them and leech out their blood before dropping their corpses behind. Finally, Rachel is taken, and Ray follows her into the tripod, where abductees are thrown together in hanging cages that remind one of barracks at Auschwitz. Of course, Spielberg wants to teach us again about the Holocaust; but here it is not military gamesmanship that defeats the enemy; it is pure biology. It is as if nature dictates morality.

See more comments by Richard W. Haines on film technology in this movie at

this link.

Pulse (“Kairo”) (2001, rel. 2005, Magnolia/Toho, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, PG-13, 118 min) turns out to be a truly apocalyptic horror film, even nihilistic. Indeed, it’s the end of life as we know it. Some college students in Tokyo first become concerned when one of their computer buddies (with whom they have been developing controversial webcam application, about to be published commercially) hangs himself. Soon ghosts start showing up in computer screens, and people vaporize, turning into dust. About half way into the film a woman jumps from a building and plops dead on the street. Soon the teens notice that there is little traffic anymore, and Tokyo is rapidly depopulating. The figure out a theory, that ghosts have become too numerous and are re-entering our dominion through the web and body snatching people. The movie turns into a moral fable about the dangers of replacing people with aesthetic representations of people.  The teens also learn not to enter a room marked with red masking tape. At the end, the last boy does, and he “gets it” from a ghost and is doomed. The final specters of Tokyo, with black soot drifting up from empty skyscrapers, is shocking; the scene calls to mind the sempre pianissimo finales of Ralph Vaughn Williams’s Symphony #6 (e minor) and Bela Bartok’s last string quartet (movements marked as “mesto”). The girl may be able to be saved and rescued at sea, but is this a world wide mass extinction? Koyuki, Kumiko Aso, and other young Japanese cast are very appealing, the kind that take A.P. courses in the U.S.  That makes this a tragedy. Miramax and the Weinstein Co. considered releasing this film before, but was probably dissuaded by 9/11. The film’s initial premise reminds one U.S. films like The Ring and Wes Craven’s They. The credits (though subtitled) are entirely in Japanese picture characters.

The Weinstein Company/Dimension Films releases an English language version of this film in August 2006. This appears to be a close remake with Jim Sonzero  as the director and some rewriting by Wes Craven, a new cast (Kristen Bell, Ian Somerhalder). The idea that someone can be “infected” by a computer seems quite tantalizing.

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