28 Days Later is a film that strays from many of its genres’ stereotypes. It plays with the rules of zombies in a new and refreshing way. It is a horror movie with developed and likable characters. And perhaps the most shocking characteristic, it is a horror movie that does not rely heavily on jump-scares to shock its audience.
The jump-scare is a technique that has become oversaturated and overused in modern horror cinema. Recent movies abuse the technique by repeatedly giving us false scares with no sense of buildup or real payoff. A character enters a dark room, slowly turns around, and suddenly some form of terrifying image fills the screen accompanied with some kind of loud noise. These kind of false scares show a lack of creativity and artistry. And unfortunately, Hollywood seems convinced that making a good horror movie is about how many times you can startle the audience with a loud noise, instead of creating in them a real sense of fear. The true horror in 28 Days Later comes in the form of cleverly set up situations.
For example, a horde of infected charging our heroes as they struggle to fix a flat tire. Or, perhaps the most frightening scene in the film, an infected priest stumbling through the door and attacking our main character. These scenes use camera angles, sound, and timing to give the audience a sense of dread and fear.
However, 28 Days Later does have one jump-scare in it, and it comes during the finale of the film. But in contrast to a lot of modern horror cinema, this jump-scare is brilliantly set up and executed. In the film, our main character frees the infected who has been chained up for some time. The infected then disappears into the dark. Several minutes later, a soldier absentmindedly walks near a window. Suddenly the infected appears, and we are subjected to a close up of his monstrous face. The jump-scare here was used very intentionally. It was set up through earlier events of the film, executed very well, and then used to further the plot. In fact, the jump-scare is even more effective due to the lack of jump-scares in the film up to this moment.
As an audience member, this jump-scare truly caught me off guard. Danny Boyle was able to use the technique to it’s fullest and most horrifying. In an age where the jump-scare has been beaten to death for cheap scares and uncreative filmmaking, it is refreshing to see the technique used so tastefully.