In 2002, the director of Shallow Grave; Trainspotting and The Beach gave us his own take on the genre with his terrifying film 28 Days Later. Doe-eyed beauty Cillian Murphy got his big break in the story of a virus gone wild in Great Britain. When animal rights activists break into a lab and release the test monkeys from their cages, they unwittingly unleash the "Rage" virus, a bio-engineered disease with an instant infection rate.
28 days later, Jim (Murphy) a bicycle messenger injured in a crash, awakes from a coma in an abandoned hospital. Confused and scared, he makes his way onto the deserted streets of London where he is soon set upon by a group of raving maniacs. He is rescued by Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley) who hide him in the Underground and explain the situation, telling him they've heard reports of infection in Paris and New York. The next day they make their way to Jim's parents' house, only to find that they've committed suicide to avoid becoming infected. That night, drawn by a candle in the window, a group of the Infected (the word 'zombie' is never used) attack and Mark is killed. Selena and Jim soon find Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) holed up in a tower of flats with dwindling supplies. They head to Manchester, drawn by a pre-recorded radio message that promises a cure to infection. Frank ends up infected when blood from a body drops into his eye and is killed by a group of soldiers just as he is about to rage. The soldiers take Jim, Selena and Hannah to their "headquarters" in a deserted mansion, where they discover the whole thing was a ruse to lure women with whom the soldiers intend to repopulate Great Britain. One soldier, Sergeant Farell (Colin McQuarrie) theorizes that the infection is not global and that the British Isles have been quarantined by the rest of the world. As the evil Major West (Christopher Eccleston) prepares Selena and Hannah for rape, he has Farrell and Jim taken out to be executed. Jim escapes and releases an infected soldier named Mailer, whom West had chained in the garden. As Mailer wreaks havoc on the soldiers, Jim rescues Selena and Hannah, but is shot by West who was hiding in the back of their car. Selena backs the cab up to the door and Mailer drags West out through the rear-window. 28 days later, Jim awakes in a cottage, having been saved by Selena. She leads him outside where she and Hannah have created a cloth sign that reads "Hello," just as a a Finnish jet flies over head.
In 2007, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (Intacto) made the Boyle-produced sequel, 28 Weeks Later. Starring Robert Carlysle (The Full Monty; "Once Upon a Time") and Rose Byrne. It featured an unrelenting opening sequence in which Carlysle and his wife find themselves under attack by the Infected while hiding out in a remote farmhouse.
American forces have taken over and are attempting to rebuild British society. Carlysle is eventually reunited with his children, but his wife is a carrier who reinfects the isolated population of survivors in the security zone known as "District One." Byrne ("Damages"); Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker and the upcoming MI4: Ghost Protocol); Harold Perrineau ("Lost") and Idris Elba ("The Wire") are American soldiers trying to keep it together and keep the infection contained.
Darker and even more grim than the original (if that's possible), 28 Weeks Later is one of those rare sequels that is actually as good as the original.
Boyle insists the franchise (28 Months Later has been announced for a 2013 release) is not about zombies, though it follows the classic structure of a modern zombie film. The movies' fast-moving ghouls helped inspire Zach Snyder's 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead (much to George Romero's consternation).
And here's a (poor quality - sorry) German-dubbed version of the opening sequence from 28 Weeks...
Both films are excellent and certainly worth every zombie fan's attention.