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Boylespotting: A profile

A blurry peek into the work of our current favourite Englishman.

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Danny Boyle never wanted to make a zombie movie.

After a rushed prologue, 28 Days Later opens with a long, haunting scene showing Cillian Murphy’s haplessly normal character Jim wandering through London. He walks through Westminster Bridge, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Bridge, staring confoundedly around him because these unmistakable London landmarks — areas of the city that define the word ‘bustle’ — are empty, and so Jim, who has just woken from a 28-day coma, finds himself lonelier than a woman at a comic book convention.

Shot on digital video, the impossibly empty London sequences are disconcertingly haunting, showing the city in an unlikely desolation that seems endless. Before the zombie virus called Rage strikes, that is.

The scene is a watershed moment in modern horror cinema, and even though Boyle refers to the film as a drama set in a zombie/horror backdrop, the fear generated by the film and that landmark scene is pretty darned intense.

Talking about the film now, sitting in Mumbai opposite director Sudhir Mishra at a Masterclass, the 52-year-old Boyle tells us that this specific London sequence was the only reason he did the film, before going on to elaborate how digital cameras were much, much cheaper than their film counterparts, and how they got 70-odd cameras and scattered them around the place and only held up traffic for a few minutes, early in the morning. And then it’s on the editing table that the sequence is intercut using various angles, cut to excruciatingly slow speeds, making it seem endless.

Boyle isn’t a big fan of the genre at all, but screenwriter Alex Garland — who also wrote The Beach — is a massive zombie nut, and insisted on this film. Boyle then drew parallels between his film’s Rage virus and England itself increasingly mired in day-to-day incidents of road rage and a general unease, and used the tension between himself and his zombie-lovin’ writer to give the film greater edge.

Danny Boyle never wanted to make a first film that was derivative of the Coen brothers. Danny Boyle never wanted to head down to Thailand with an invading army to shoot a film. And Danny Boyle never, ever wanted to make a film in India.

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