Would you want to survive the apocalypse? Isn't life hard enough already? From Soylent Green through to Waterworld, the worst part of the apocalypse is surviving it. Where would you propose to buy your dental floss after armageddon? Who'd have time to worry about personal hygiene with zombies on the loose? This (the zombie part) is the dilemma that confronts Will Smith in I Am Legend. He copes better than most would, but still, post-apocalyptic life is bleak.
As in a lot of recent zombie movies, the cause of half the world turning into ravenous killers is scientific. In 2009, a scientist (who looks suspiciously like Emma Thompson) develops a cure for cancer. The cure mutates, becomes airborne, and three years later Will Smith's character, Robert Neville, is the last man left alive in New York. We learn later that the Krippen virus (what did they expect from a cure named after a wife murderer?) has killed 90 per cent of humanity and turned 9 of the remaining 10 per cent into zombies.
Considering he's the only person on screen for a surprising amount of time, Will Smith holds the eye remarkably well. His character is the sort of soldier-scientist-everyman who only exists in movies; the sort of guy who's as at home with Bunsen burners as he is with smart bombs. Neville has spent his time since world's end working in a lab in the basement of his Upper West Side brownstone. Where he gets power and running water from is anyone's guess, but he's inching toward a cure for Krippen and his search gives the movie its drive.
Two scenes that stand out both involve Neville, his dog and zombies. The first scene comes early, when Neville's dog runs into a derelict apartment building. Zombies can't come out in daylight, but in the dark of buildings, they stand around all day, waiting. When Neville's torch illuminates blood on the staircase, it's Blair Witch time for the audience (and that's Blair Witch the first time you saw it). The second nerve-shredding scene comes when Neville is caught in the open after dark and a pack of zombie dogs comes after him. The director, Francis Lawrence, cranks the suspense like Hitchcock for the Xbox generation.
Apocalypse movies work when you feel the dread. In that sense, I Am Legend is dread-full. This is not the thinking man's apocalypse movie that some might claim it to be, but it doesn't pale in comparison with 28 Days Later either, and it does what all good apocalypse movies strive to do: alternately leave you drained and mighty glad to still be part of a thriving civilisation.
James Tatham, teacher, Cardiff
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