This week in Exploring Soundtracks, in a way to get into the Halloween spirit, we’ll be looking at one of the best original zombie films that isn’t a spoof on other zombie films. “28 Days Later” is a gut-wrenching, fast-paced thrill ride directed by Danny Boyle, and it wholly deserves a place in any good horror collection.
The “28 Days Later” soundtrack built by John Murphy is equally impressive. In horror movies, the scares are heightened by the atmosphere heard in the score and soundtrack. This is where the tone and emotional core of the film comes from.
In “28 Days Later”, that emotional core comes from a wide selection of genres, including classical, post-rock, electronic, and ambient. Whenever a song comes on, it is doing one of a few different things. It is putting you on the edge of your seat and unsettling you, or lulling you into a false sense of security, or providing an emotional backdrop to the loneliness of finding yourself in the middle of widespread fallout.
28 Days Later
“28 Days Later” follows Jim (Cillian Murphy), who wakes up in a hospital four weeks after an incurable virus has turned most of the UK’s population into rage-filled super zombies. He eventually finds other survivors, who try to make their way through their now lonely and unfamiliar world, and find sanctuary.
John Murphy’s carefully selected soundtrack heightens that sense of loneliness and isolation with some helpful contributions from Brian Eno, Granddaddy, and the Blue States. Not only does Murphy successfully convey these emotions in the film, but in other tracks, he also manages to heighten the paranoia that the remaining humans have toward one another.
The soundtrack isn’t strictly dark from beginning to end, though. More sorrowful and emotional tracks like “Jim’s Parents” and “Taxi (Ave Maria)” help to balance the soundtrack with operatic vocals from Perri Alleyne.
Murphy’s soundtrack mostly focuses on keeping pace with the film. The tracks are rhythmic and droning, but still manage to sneak in some simple motifs to tie it together.
There aren’t many pop songs in the “28 Days Later” soundtrack, but this electronic single from Granddaddy manages to find a fitting place. It comes in as our group of four survivors come upon an abandoned grocery store outside of town. They go in, and get a nice respite from the blood and danger lurking outside as “A.M. 180” plays.
The song fits so well by walking the line between melancholy and nihilistic whimsy. When you find yourself in the middle of a collapsing civilization, you might want to have a bit of fun to take your mind off your slim chances.
“An Ending (Ascent)”
No one can nail the ambient aesthetic quite like Brian Eno does. This track comes in shortly after “A.M. 180”. Jim and his group of survivors stop in the countryside to enjoy the spoils of their previous victory, still riding off the high from the previous scene. As they enjoy their meal, they watch a family of horses galloping in the distance.
“An Ending (Ascent)” is dreamy and uplifting, which is quite fitting for the group’s short moments of peace. As they watch the horses, one of them asks, “Are they infected?” and is answered with, “No. They’re doing just fine”. That sense of peace and freedom owned by the horses is untouchable for Jim and his companions. Brian Eno’s dreamlike tones wash over everything else. And for a moment, you almost forget that you’re watching a horror movie.
“In The House – In A Heartbeat”
One of my favorite tracks of “28 Days Later” comes during the climax of the film. While his companions are being held against their will by soldiers, Jim goes on a rampage of his own, setting rage zombies loose on a compound. By the end of this sequence, Jim has gone through a transformation that makes him resemble one of the infected. Things get brutal, to say the least.
“In The House – In A Heartbeat” keeps ramping up the tension throughout Jim’s rampage. The quiet motif head earlier in the soundtrack builds up to a distorted, electric drone and pounding, driving drums. The haunting, repetitive riff releases suddenly to a soft, fading piano, coinciding perfectly with the release in tension on screen.
This track manages to capture the themes of paranoia, despair, death, and somehow, hope, all in one. It’ll also stick in your head like nothing else, and maybe make a cameo in your nightmares.