Danny Boyle, Alex Garland and Andrew MacDonald

The creators of 28 Days Later (and Sunshine). 28 Days Later is not the sequel to the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days. It is, however, a British film shot on Digital Video, on cameras you can pick up in high street stores. It has a science fiction premise and an art-house aesthetic. It’s a film about paranoia and tends to polarise its audience between lovers and haters. On its UK release, word of mouth helped it get to number one for a couple of weeks at the end of last year, before the Harry Potter steamroller arrived. It’s also, at its structural heart, a genre film. In many ways it is useful to work within a genre. If nothing else, it means that a considerable amount of the hard work of filmmaking and story-telling has been done by the people who have worked in the genre before you. In the case of 28 Days Later, we were working in a sub-genre of sci-fi and horror: the post apocalypse. The roots of the genre were born from the fall-out from a real apocalypse: the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Novels like John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend seemed to result from the nuclear paranoia that followed - a realisation that it had become a reality that mankind and civilisation might be ended, and not by the traditional act of God but by ourselves. The grip on our imaginations that nuclear paranoia exerted seems to be a clear indicator of how little we trusted ourselves to cope with such power. Arguably, cinema followed the cues of these novels with equally fearful works, though found cause for paranoia in different areas, such as social issues and consumerism. Possibly, the finest examples of cinema’s contribution to the post-apocalyptic genre are found in George Romero’s Dead trilogy - Night, Dawn, and Day. But honourable mentions also include The Omega Man, which is an adaptation of Matheson’s I Am Legend, and also David Cronenburg’s Rabid. There are other films and books that could be mentioned, but the point remains the same: that 28 Days Later is essentially a contribution to a lineage. We borrowed, sourced, and stole from these earlier works. Our opening sequence of a man waking in a hospital bed to find that London has been destroyed is lifted from Day of the Triffids. A scene set in a supermarket is a reference to the plundering of the shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead. The chained ‘infected’ - our version of triffids, vampires, or zombies - made his first appearance in Day of the Dead. Aside from providing structure, genre also allows you to play games with convention. To pick one convention example out of many, it tends to be the case that in any horror film worth its salt, there will be a version of a scene where, say, a girl will walk into a dark and obviously dangerous cellar, holding only a flashlight with dying batteries as defence. At this point, all members of the audience will be asking, internally or externally - why the hell are you doing that? Our version was a drive into a dark tunnel full of smashed cars and broken glass. In this instance however, at least one of the film’s characters is smart enough to point out the complete idiocy of the action. Not that anyone listens, of course. Our close relationship with genre raised a question for us as filmmakers - how much do we sign-post the borrowings and convention games? And we decided that we wouldn’t sign-post them at all. This was an attempt to sidestep what has become another convention of sci-fi and horror: the knowing wink. The ironic nudge made by the filmmakers at the genre-savvy audience. The problem with the winking and nudging is that it has become a way to let everyone off the hook. If a scene is supposed to be frightening or suspenseful, an ironic reference becomes a way that the filmmaker can protect himself from failure. In other words, if the scene fails to be suspenseful, the filmmaker can pretend he was really just making a post-modern comment on the nature of contemporary cinema. Equally, the audience is let off the hook, because if the filmmaker has succeeded in making the scene suspenseful, the audience can reassure themselves by congratulating themselves on their ability to reference, sub-reference, and knowingly deconstruct the history of cinema. The last (but probably most valuable) of the gifts that genre provides is that it provides you with proven story mechanics which you can customise as you see fit. Often, the customisation becomes a large proportion of what makes one genre piece distinct from another - the hidden agenda and social commentary. It’s debatable whether sci-fi frequently operates as a debating ground for social issues because of the filmmaker’s noble intent, or whether it is the result of a failure of the imagination - that when trying to invent a new world, you end up drawing on the world you see around you. Either way - genre makes for a great agenda vehicle. Not least because it puts a limit on pretentiousness. (Okay, you want to make a piece of earnest work about the collapsing fabric of society. Congratulations. But let’s not forget you’re also making a zombie movie... so stop messing around and blow up a petrol station already.) Danny, Andrew, and Alex

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