Analyze This: 28 Days Later
Winner of the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film in 2004, including two additional Saturn Award nominations for Best Director (Danny Boyle) and Best Writing (Alex Garland) amongst many others, 28 Days Later has proven it is one of the greatest horror films of the twenty-first century.
Even if you are not a fan of the horror genre, there are still some valuable lessons to be learned from the structuring of this film. Pay special attention to the time stamps at the end of each paragraph, and take note how quickly we move from event to event (a.k.a. pacing).
Act I: Introduction
28 Days Later gets right to the point with the first images we see - a one minute montage of panic and chaos in streets all over the world immediately sets the tone for the rest of the film. The montage ends on a television inside of a lab, perfectly transitioning into the next scene (1:00).
A group of activists have broken into a lab full of chimpanzees with the intention of releasing them - unfortunately, these chimps are infected with "the rage virus." Despite the protest of a scientist, the chimps are released and everyone is killed, ushering humanity into a possible extinction event (5:28).
28 days later, a young man awakens in a hospital all by himself - our main character, Jim. After freeing himself from the medical equipment and finding clothing, Jim wanders around the hospital looking for... well, anybody! Fortunately, he manages to find a cache of soda and junk food, but still no people (7:58).
Jim finally makes his way outside, only to discover the trashed, empty streets of London. He continues to wander, reading newspaper headlines and searching for signs of life. Another montage of the desolate European streets, this time with haunting music and iconic scenery, hammers home the hopelessness of Jim's situation (10:00).
Tired of aimlessly wandering, Jim spots a church and heads inside to look for something... anything! Upon entering the balcony, Jim sees carnage in the sanctuary below. There are bodies everywhere, and what appears to be some lingering survivors. Jim calls out to them, but we quickly discover these creatures are no longer human. An infected priest attacks Jim, but he manages to fight him off and escape back onto the empty London streets (15:30).
Just fifteen minutes in, and Act I is already complete! The world has been defined, the main character introduced, the conflict identified, and themes of extinction and survival have all been established.
Act II: Rising Action
While running for his life, Jim encounters more infected as well as some fellow humans, Mark and Selena - they guide him to safety, but not before blowing up a gas station to rid themselves of the infected threat (17:00).
After getting acquainted, Jim and his two new friends discuss the bleak state of things on their side of the world. The hopelessness of their situation pushes Jim to embark on a quest to return home and search for his parents. Begrudgingly, his new party accompanies him home (21:57).
Not surprisingly, Jim's parents are dead - they ended their own lives weeks ago. Night is falling, so Jim and his new friends are forced to spend the night. Jim and Selena bond over their shared losses, which leads to Jim watching family videos on the television (27:00).
Unfortunately, this attracts some infected humans! Mark is injured in the melee, which forces Selena to kill him. They leave immediately, and Selena explains to Jim how quickly the infection works, and how easy it is to become infected (30:50).
As they walk the streets, Jim and Selena see a bunch of blinking lights at the top of an apartment building - possible survivors! They make their way inside, only to discover a ramshackle staircase made out of shopping carts. Jim has had nothing but empty calories since he woke up, so a sugar crash causes them to take a break. Selena gives him some painkillers and more sugar, just in time for the infected to announce their impending arrival. Selena and Jim make it to the top of the stairs, encountering a lone survivor along the way! The armored survivor fights off the infected and rushes Jim and Selena inside his apartment (35:00).
The armored survivor, Frank, and his daughter Hannah introduce themselves and open their home up to Jim and Selena. They share a celebratory drink before winding down for the evening. Jim and Selena spend more time bonding and discussing their situation before turning in for the evening (39:00).
Frank takes Jim to the top of the building and shows him how dire their situation is. The roof is full of containers to collect water, but it hasn't rained in weeks! Then, Frank switches on a radio and plays a promising message for Jim - there are armed survivors out there promising help. All they have to do is make it to a military checkpoint. After a heated debate, Hannah points out that they all need each other to survive and promptly head out (43:00).
With their car fully loaded, our survivors make their way down the highways of Europe. Eventually, they are forced into a tunnel crammed full of disabled vehicles. They have no choice but to drive over the mass of wreckage, but manage to blow a tire after clearing the obstruction. A large pack of rats rushing through the tunnels alerts them to the incoming infected horde. They quickly change the tire, escaping in the nick of time (46:50).
They spot a grocery store as they pass through town, stop, and fill some shopping carts full of food and drinks for their journey. They pack the car full of supplies and head back out, much happier now (49:05).
Now, it's time to fill the car up with gas. Jim explores the gas station, while the others wait outside and acquire gasoline. He discovers some bodies, and more importantly, an infected child. Jim takes care of the child with his trusty bat, and makes his way back to the car. They resume their journey (52:15).
After finding a patch of land with wild horses running free, Frank has decided that they are in a safe place fit for camping. They feast, laugh, and discuss the future. Jim and Selena share a kiss before bedding down for the evening. Painkillers are distributed to aid with sleeping - Frank lets Hannah have half of one. Jim has a nightmare, and awakens to find everyone in the car ready to go (57:55).
Here we are at the one hour mark, and everything is running smoothly! The Rising Action has produced a successful roller coaster ride full of ups and downs, and plenty of tension to go around - now it's time to begin Act III, the Climax!
Act III: Climax
As they near the checkpoint, the repeating message plays over the radio and we can see the city burning on the horizon. Finally, their destination is reached - they begin exploring the area. Unfortunately, there is no one to be found and Frank gets angry (1:03:30).
Agitated, Frank stops paying attention to his surroundings - a drop of infected blood falls from a body above him and directly into his eye. He manages to say goodbye to Hannah before turning into an infected. A group of soldiers appear from the forest and save the survivors from Frank, before whisking them off to a fortified base (1:07:20).
The guests are greeted and introduced to Major Henry West, the man in charge, and some of the soldiers. After a shower, Jim discusses their new situation with Selena and comforts her. Major West talks to Jim and tells him he has the answer to infection, before taking him on a tour (1:11:00).
Jim meets more of the soldiers while touring the kitchen - dinner is being prepared! Major West takes Jim outside and introduces him to Mailer, an infected human that he chained up in order to discover how long it takes them to starve to death. Then, dinner is served. Unfortunately, the eggs have gone bad and the food is inedible. Major West and Sergeant Farrell share their views on the infection, just in time for another attack. The infected humans are no match for the soldiers and their fortified base - they fall quickly (1:22:00).
Jacked up on adrenaline from battle, some of the soldiers get grabby with the women. Major West reveals to Jim the promise he made to his men - he would find women for them, giving them a reason to live, hence the repeating message that brought them there. Jim does his best to protect the women, but he is outnumbered. Sergeant Farrell is also opposed to the intentions of his fellow soldiers, so he is locked up with Jim. Major West orders their execution and they are marched into the woods (1:28:15).
Farrell is executed first, so Jim uses this opportunity to escape. He climbs over the wall and runs for his life. After collapsing, he lays there exhausted and sees a jet flying over head... the world isn't over! Now he's bound and determined to exact revenge on these insane soldiers and save his friends (1:31:00).
Meanwhile, Selena and Hannah are fighting for their lives amongst the soldiers. Selena tricks them into leaving the room so they both can change, and gives Hannah some painkillers in an effort to numb her senses for the upcoming unpleasantness (1:33:00).
Jim returns to the military outpost and cranks the alarm, attracting the attention of Major West and his soldiers. Major West and another soldier pursue Jim, leaving the rest behind to watch the women. After arriving, the soldier is taken out by Jim leaving Major West all alone. Jim sabotages the Major's vehicle before leaving to rescue his friends (1:36:50).
Act IV: Falling Action
Upon arriving at the fortified base, Jim immediately frees Mailer. Inside the house, the soldiers hear Mailer running around and investigate. Stoned on painkillers, Hannah taunts the soldiers. Mailer attacks the soldier guarding them, allowing the duo to escape. They make it all the way downstairs, but are stopped by a pair of soldiers at the front door. Hannah runs back upstairs while Mailer and company continue killing soldiers - Selena is dragged back into the house. Jim finds a soldier who was hiding in the kitchen from the infected and kills him (1:41:16).
Major West shows up at the front door, while Hannah is retrieving a family photo from upstairs. She hides behind a mirror and avoids one of the infected, while Jim continues to elude them, as well. He stumbles onto a soldier who is out of ammo and hiding under a bed. He exits via the window, leaving the soldier behind to be killed (1:43:58).
Jim waits in the rafters above the ceiling while tracking Selena in the room below. He jumps through the ceiling tiles, saving her from the final soldier. After Selena and Hannah verify that Jim is still human, they are spurred back into action upon hearing the screeching of infected in the distance (1:47:00).
The trio of survivors beeline straight for the car, but Major West is waiting for them inside! He wastes no time shooting Jim. Fearless, Hannah jumps into the driver's seat and throws the car in reverse, driving Major West back to the house, where the infected pull him through the rear windshield. Hannah returns to Selena and Jim, they hop inside the car, then crash through the front gate (1:48:35).
Remember, the Falling Action isn't necessarily a long sequence. The sole purpose of this act is to determine a clear winner and loser.
Act V: Resolution
After a quick montage of Selena attempting to save Jim's life in a hospital, 28 more days pass. This time, Jim wakes up in a peaceful cottage to the sounds of Selena using a sewing machine. The roar of a jet engine can be heard overhead, while the infected are starving to death in the streets. The three friends rush out to the fields carrying a large piece of cloth - the final letter O for the word HELLO that they've spelled out in large letters. The survivors are spotted and all is well (1:52:00)!
There's a reason this film was nominated for, and won, so many awards - it is beautifully crafted and expertly paced! By taking an in-depth look into what makes good movies great, we can make our own screenplays just as exciting and memorable!
Good luck, and happy writing!