Directed by Danny Boyle starring Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Ecclestone.

Three strikes and you're out. A rule that so easily could've applied to Danny Boyle. After the double whammy of 'Shallow Grave' and 'Trainspotting', he then managed to almost cancel out his good work with 'A Life Less Ordinary' and the DiCaprio-fronted makeover of Alex Garland's novel 'The Beach'. So '28 Days Later' needed to be a hit - and it will be. But while it signals a director finding his groove once again, it could've been a much better shocker.

Awaking from an accident-induced coma, bike courier Jim (Murphy) discovers that life as he knows it has ceased. The hospital is deserted, the London outside his bed is empty too and a massive poster board of missing persons suggests Jim isn't about to find anyone to talk about it with in a hurry. He walks into a church hoping to find any kind of answer, only to find corpses piled three high and a blood lusting priest keen on turning Jim into him. This is his first contact with 'The Rage', a man-made virus which has warped most of the population into psychotic killers and forced the uninfected into hiding.

Murphy is excellent throughout as the bewildered yet heroic Jim but '28 DaysLater' is a film that never comes close to the brilliance of its opening half hour. Shot on DV cameras, Boyle creates a great waking nightmare as Jim wanders London trying to piece together what has happened. The balance between suspense and growing nausea is just right, and when Jim meets the first casualty of 'The Rage' it seems that horror has found a brand new home.

And that's the problem: it just doesn't get any scarier. Hooking up with some other survivors (Harris and Gleeson as a London cabbie), Jim embarks on a trip up North to reach a military base, but the journey is more concerned with the numbness the characters feel than a desire to put them through the rage ringer every five minutes. And if you've seen any of George A Romero's 'Dead' trilogy ('Night', 'Dawn' and 'Day') or the likes of 'Day of the Triffids' or 'The Omega Man', Boyle's film (and Garland's script) will seem very familiar.

Dealing with villains which - like Romero's Zombies - are one dimensional means that the greatest threat has to be posed to the heroes from within and it arrives when Jim & Co rendezvous with a group of soldiers (led by Ecclestone). At this point the film owes so much to 'Day of the Dead', it's almost funny and horror fans will be able to get the ending as it unfolds. But while it does seem too abrupt for the slow-moving feel of what went before, to Boyle's credit he stages the showdown within a country manor superbly, with the action moving from room to room at a frenetic pace and the victims of 'The Rage' getting their chance to do what they do best/worst.

You can argue the plot holes (empty motorways? no bodies on the streets? no working mobile phones to ring the US? Murphy's 'Die Hard' style transformation?) longer than the film is onscreen, but '28 Days Later' remains an enjoyable romp which could've been a great one. Boyle may get some things wrong but he gets plenty right and most importantly, he whets your appetite for whatever he's going to do next time.

Harry Guerin