A then unknown Cillian Murphy plays our eyes and ears in the picture. He is Jim, and after a brief prologue it is Jim who wakes up in the hospital. He is a bike messenger and has been in an accident. The hospital is completely empty, the street outside is vacant, and as he makes his way out into the daylight he discovers – in perhaps the most iconic and shocking moment in the picture – that virtually all of London is empty. But he soon discovers that there are people looming, people that have become blood-spitting zombies. He falls in with a group of survivors trying their best to steer clear of the mobs of the undead, and they work their way across the London countryside to try and gather a group that could possibly start a new community.
The set up had been done before, but the stark imagery and the sensibilities at play here were very much the product of a post-9/11 era. The image of downtown London, vacant and cold, is unforgettable. The idea that society has been wiped out was an underlying fear at the time, and Boyle played on these fears to add a certain aspect of doom and gloom to a typical zombie thriller. And the zombies themselves, moving with a furious energy, spitting and red-eyed and angry, are a layer vital to the success of the terrifying moments that are plentiful throughout Boyle’s fully-realized vision.