Pattern Recognition

Our approach to the film was all about directness and immediacy so the very first images seen are mocked-up newsreel sequences. Although we were working in a genre, we purposely avoided irony and knowing nods & winks to the audience. And we didn't have a title to the film or a title sequence. Instead, we made the title a part of the narrative. A caption, along the lines of: That afternoon; Later; Meanwhile; The following morning; Two days later.

In our case: 28 Days Later.

It's a bit of a mouthful. Nobody actually called it 28 Days Later—in development and on set it was quickly abbreviated to 28 Days. Which was fine, until someone pointed out that there already was a film called 28 Days, and 28 Days Later sounded very much like a sequel.

To clarify, in case anyone doesn't know, 28 Days is an uplifting story of one woman's battle to overcome alcoholism through the redemptive power of love. 28 Days Later, on the other hand, is a violent post-apocalyptic fantasy about a virus that infects people with a killing rage.

We were initially quite pleased that we might pick up a few extra box-office receipts by cinema goers who were confused over the title, and expecting to see a film in which Sandra Bullock had tragically relapsed, presumably requiring a further 28 days of rehab. But we began to have second thoughts. It's a litigious world, and a prospective nightmare scenario was outlined to us, where a group of AA members arrived at our film for an evening of affirmation and support, and ended up having heart attacks or falling off the wagon.

So we began experimenting with the caption. 27 Days Later. 31 Days Later. 24 Days Later. And so on. And none of them worked.

The question is: Why? What is the substantive difference between 27 and 28—apart from 1? And also, if our film had been called 7 Days Later, why does 7 work, and not 8? Why does 8 only work when you put the 2 in front of it? And if the film had been called 1 Day Later, why would it have been better to call it 24 Hours Later?

The idea that different numbers have different pleasing qualities isn't new—it's at least as old as the Golden Mean. And there are some obvious reasons why 28 days might feel more suitable than 27 or 29. 28 is the number of days we are told to allow for delivery of mail-order goods; it's the number of days in a menstrual cycle; a lunar cycle; it's four times seven days.

But these are all connections that relate to familiarity—which only tells us that we are used to hearing the number 28 in a variety of contexts. Familiarity doesn't necessarily explain an aesthetic choice. We don't like to look at a painting just because we've often seen it before, or like to listen to a piece of music because it's always playing on the radio.

As you might imagine, if you've read this far, thinking about this stuff gave us a headache, so we gave up. All of which leads me to no great conclusion, except to point out that a consideration of numbers is, if nothing else, particularly appropriate to 28 Days Later, because whereas most films reduce to words and pictures, ours is all ones and zeroes.

Numbers lie beneath everything and are weirder than any of us know. We ended up sticking with our original title.

©2003 Landmark Theatres