Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later’ and the Intimacy of Terror

A new video considers the real heart of the film’s horror.

There’s no denying that Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is a truly terrifying film, one that breathed new life into the zombie genre – a wave we’re still riding, by the way – with its depiction of our modern world made vacant by pandemic. The undead antagonists of the film were a new breed, faster, stronger, more feral, more ravenous, and with a pack mentality that made them more than mere individual threats, but rather a tide of terror washing bloody froth across the English countryside. The film resonated with audiences in a way a few and only the best horror films can, on a primal, emotional level. It’s a film, a terror, that we could feel, not just understand or empathize with, it was a communicable terror, something we contracted by watching the film, a little pandemic all our own.

But contrary to what you might think, the zombies aren’t the only thing that makes 28 Days Later so uniquely frightening. Per the latest intriguing video essay from Mr. Nerdista, it’s the way the director establishes intimacy both narratively by focusing on a nuclear group of characters connected by familial or survivor bonds, and cinematically in the way he frames these characters, often up-close-and-personal, drawing us uncomfortably into their emotional space.

This makes for a fascinating reminder that ultimately it isn’t the threat of death that terrifies us, but the thought of everything death means giving up: family, hope, love. By raising an audience’s level of engagement with characters in that way, the stakes are also raised, emotionally, which makes for a more immersive and impressionable filmgoing experience. Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland have practically personified this idea in 28 Days Later, and as Mr. Nerdista illustrates, they’ve done so masterfully.