Zombie movies have come a long way since George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead set the gold standard. The undead have always existed with a fairly consistent set of rules: They’re slow and shuffly, crave brains, and are recently risen from the grave. This all changed in 2003, with the release of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. His “zombies” were debatably not even zombies at all. They were scary fast, angry, and decidedly lacked the same penchant for brain-centric cannibalism.
Instead of rising from the dead for supernatural reasons, they were infected with what’s known as the “Rage Virus,” concocted in a lab and let loose on the world. This major difference rewrote the the way we define zombies, no longer making them synonymous with the term “undead.” Its success spawned a sequel in 28 Weeks Later, with a new director and team of writers attached. Tonally it felt far different than its predecessor, giving rise to the debate: Which was the superior movie?
The case for 28 Days Later
At its core, 28 Days is a think-piece. Yes, it’s a horror movie featuring raged-out infected monsters chasing down Cillian Murphy and friends, but that becomes secondary in the latter half of the film. Once they find a corrupt military compound, the infected become mere players in the greater narrative question: Are we the real monsters? As such, the pacing is far more deliberate than its sequel, feeling more like Ridley Scott’s Alien than James Cameron’s Aliens.
The biggest case you can make here in favor of the first installment though: It’s the property of its creators, Danny Boyle and Alex Garland. 28 Weeks featured a brand new team at the helm, making them more creative interlopers than caring parents to a fascinating story. Because of this, it’s treated with all the care and precision you’d expect from its originators.
The case for 28 Weeks Later
The argument for 28 Days being the superior film is compelling to say the least. That being so, it’s sequel isn’t without its own merits. Yes, a new writer/director combo stepped in, but they did exactly what Cameron did with Aliens: Ramp up the action. Rather than a fairly quiet horr think-piece, we got a full-on zombie action movie. We see the escalation of an outbreak instead of the result of it having already taken place. In one stunning scene, military snipers are perched on roofs in a downtown area, forced to pick out the infected from the healthy in the pitch black chaos of nighttime. Simply put, it’s high-adrenaline moviemaking at its most compelling.
28 Days had its characters (and by extension audience) acting as bystanders to events happening around them. With Weeks, everyone’s an active participant, plunging us directly into the action from the very get-go. The fear is no longer based around existing in a post-apocalypse world, but instead escaping the apocalypse in progress.
These two movies represent separate sides of the same coin. Alien was a slower-moving horror movie. Aliens is an action film. That’s exactly the dynamic shared by Days and Weeks respectively, making it difficult to make a distinction between the objectively better one. The first installment was superior in its depth and concept. The second wins out in the excitement category, bringing you in right away when it comes to chaotic and entertaining action sequences. The “better” film is decided based on the preference of the viewer (the best sort of non-answer, we kn0w): If you like insightful horror movies with a message, 28 Days Later is the one for you. If you enjoy high-octane action paired with fast-moving zombies, then go home with 28 Weeks Later.
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