The Decade of the Dead: How 28 Days Later, World War Z and Zombies Conquered Pop Culture | Digital Trends

(left) Brad Pitt in World War Z; (right) Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later

Ten years ago this week, the greatest zombie movie ever made was running voraciously at the multiplexes. World War Z, starring Brad Pitt and hundreds of screaming extras, was the apotheosis of a craze that has swept through 21st-century pop culture like, well, a highly contagious virus. With a budget of more than $200 million, unprecedented for stories of the walking (or tripping) dead, it felt like the culmination of an epidemic as the genre’s ubiquity morphed into pure Hollywood spectacle.

Of course, every sore begins with a first infection. And almost exactly 10 years earlier World War Z brought our collective zombie fever to a planetary scale, a much smaller variant entered theaters, poisoning the collective bloodstream with its vision of humanity besieged by swift ghouls and pushed to the brink of apocalypse. Yes, this month also marks a significant anniversary for 28 days latera patient zero of the modern zombie movie.

Our enduring fascination with the undead obviously precedes that hip and bleak Danny Boyle thriller, released in America 20 years ago next week; one could say that George Romero’s zombies walked so Boyles could run. Still 28 days later it was an early harbinger of the obsession that would run unchecked through 2000s horror cinema, and then outward into other genres and mediums. In fact, you could call it a bookend of an entire decade of the dead, con World War Z on the other side.

Between the releases of these two films, the popularity of zombies exploded. They invaded comedies, stalked Simon Pegg and Woody Harrelson, and mooned YA heroines. Libraries were littered with horrible things that turned Marvel superheroes into flesh-eating monsters, corrupted the pages of English-language classics, and provided a literary mint for Max Brooks, author of the book on which World War Z it was based. Romero, the godfather of the shuffling undead, saw his Dawn of the dead frantically remade, before churning out three more of its sequels. And, of course, that same 10-year period led to the dawn of Robert Kirkmans Walking Deadthe first issue of which hit stores a few months later 28 days later; it would start, seemingly coincidentally, in the same way, with a man waking up in a hospital to find the world on fire. The comic book adaptation came a few years later and soon became the biggest show on TV.

28 Days Later (2002) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic trailers

Written by Alex Garland, still a few years into his directorial career, 28 days later was released at the beginning of the trend and helped propel it through sleeper success here’s a zombie movie that felt old AND new, reviving the apocalyptic terror of Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, giving it a nervous turn-of-the-century makeover. This was the film that resurrected Boyle’s fading career after a couple of flops, in part by perverting and literalizing the end-of-the-world urgency of his breakthrough, Trainspotting, a different kind of zombie story. What is his strangely fast infection but the alarming image of the tweaker, mind destroyed by lab substance, life as dead-end as they get?

The film felt very current at the time. It opened with television images of civil unrest that positioned its fictional madness and horror on the same continuum as the real, breaking news variety. It was by sheer unfortunate accident that heralded the SARS epidemic and, even more unfortunately, that its relevance was renewed in the COVID era. His more enduring choice is to make the virus something of a manifestation of mass rage, the blinding rage that in later years only seemed to engulf society further. Really, the only thing that feels particularly dated 28 days later now it’s ironically his rugged early digital video aesthetic, another element that made him seem inherently fresh and modern in 2003.

For all the film’s deliberate timeliness, Boyle was indeed tapping into the timeless spirit of Romero’s graveyard of classics, delving into the doomsday solitude of Dawn of the dead and the desolation of the military base of Day of the dead, reviving the true monster messaging that made zombie filmmakers touchstones for immortal fodder for thesis papers. Of course, many Romero’s protective junkies couldn’t get past the superficial deviations of 28 days later. Were they really zombies if they didn’t crave flesh or brains? And what heresy was it that they rush instead of scramble? Death is not an energy drink, joked Robin Williams The greatest dad in the worldsumming up the line of opposition of traditionalist thought.

World War Z 2 Official Movie Trailer

World War Zwhich you could almost mistake for a prequel 28 days later (so here’s what happened while Cillian Murphy was taking a very long coma nap), would push that divisive increase in agility and speed, that adrenaline rush, even further. Her infected hordes move like swarms of insects, massing into a hive mental formation to scale massive barriers and barricades. Their behavior is actually, as the film explains, that of virus cells, which transform human bodies into instruments of mass contagion.

In his heart that doesn’t beat, WWZ is a thriller burst, zombies a catalyst for episodic adventure around the world. Self 28 days later put pockets of silent melancholy among his strident scenes, savoring the nomadic and purgatorial state of his characters who live among the rubbleWorld War Z it has the inexorable forward motion of its main attraction, be it the scraping infected or the movie star fleeing them. It’s the zombie movie as a feverish blockbuster and monumental proof that, by 2013, the craze had gone fully mainstream, tainting the Hollywood studio machine economy.

World War Z

As 28 days later, the film owes Romero micro and macro debts. As in Dawn of the dead, there’s an early stumble into an overrun apartment complex, a temporary helicopter escape, a scene of supposedly violated sanctuary. But director Marc Forster cuts through the grittier violence, delivering zombie horror of a less explicit PG-13 variety. It comes to mind how Romero once harbored visions of a metropolis awash with the dead, before scaling back to preserve the graphic dismemberment he’d be forced to sacrifice for a bigger budget. In a way, World War Z belatedly realizes some version of his original vision for Day of the dead, compromises and all that. What it lacks in visceral blood, it likely makes up for in the staggering scale of its pandemic pandemonium.

Perhaps even more so than Boyle’s film, Forster now carries the chill of grim prophecy: it’s positively peppered with uncomfortable parallels to our current world, ravaged by a rapidly spreading bug. Panicked civilians raid grocery stores and pharmacies. Experts trace the origins of the virus to East Asia. A military bigwig whispers about the Spanish flu and solemnly notes that the airlines were the perfect delivery system. However the zombie fanatics have received World War Z as a large-scale entry in their favorite sub-genre, there’s no denying it now rivals it Infection by ghostly foresight, accidentally anticipating the nightmarish conditions of our present.

But then, zombie movies have always turned the funhouse mirrors on civilization. Even if life completely returns to the semblances of a pre-pandemic normality, these plague stories will continue to vibrate with the echoes of Anyone destabilizing threat to our essential structures. That’s the real impact Romero’s crunchy classics had on the genre, for better or for worse: They saw the shadow of the real world, with all its true horrors, in the awkward gait of the dead. 28 days later AND World War Zset on opposite ends of a great decade for the zekes, he casts the same shadow even as he moves more like an Olympian after the gun has been fired than a drunk staggering out of a pub at closing time.

World War Z is currently streaming on Netflix. 28 days later it is available to rent or purchase from leading digital providers. For more information on AA Dowds’ writings, visit his Author page.

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