Noteworthy Heroines of Horror is a recurring segment on Wicked Horror where we shine the spotlight on a female character from the annals of horror history that has made a significant contribution to the genre. The characters we select may not be the obvious final girls that regularly grace top ten lists, but their contributions to the genre are meaningful and worthy of note.
It takes a certain kind of person to survive a zombie apocalypse. One needs a strong will, determination, and resourcefulness to make it through a world where you never know what is around the next corner. While some may call Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later an “infection” flick as opposed to a zombie film, it has all the hallmarks and all the dangers of a zombie apocalypse story. One of the survivors of the rage outbreak, and our latest Noteworthy Heroine of Horror, is the strong but ultimately compassionate Selena, portrayed in the film by Naomie Harris.
The main character, Jim (Cillian Murphy), has the good fortune of meeting up with Selena and her apocalypse buddy Mark when they save him from a group of infected. The audience’s first impression of Selena comes from Mark when he calls her “completely humorless,” and indeed, her character is not terribly likable during the first part of the film. Her only focus is on her own day-to-day survival. She tells Jim that she will kill him in a heartbeat if he turns into one of the infected, and later when they meet up with Frank and his daughter Hannah, her first worry is that they will slow her down. She says she will leave them behind if they do. Some of Selena’s actions also seem heartless at first. When Mark is bitten by one of the infected early in the film, Selena barely hesitates before brutally killing him with a machete.
But one has to wonder what is really going on with Selena when she says and does these things. Most likely she is in mourning for the loss of the world and the people she cared about, and she has learned in the short time since the start of the infection that more people can be taken away from her so quickly that she protects herself by trying not to get too close to them. When disposing of Mark, she is simply doing what she needs to do. The infection has a quick turnaround time, with people going into full rage mode in just a few seconds. It is certainly not that she is heartless or doesn’t care. Selena’s ability for this kind of quick thinking and decision-making is sadly now necessary in this world, and it is probably what helped keep her alive.
The inclusion of Frank and Hannah into their group is what really warms Selena’s heart. In the two of the them, she sees love and she sees a family, something she didn’t think was possible before. They make her realize that there is still hope for something better in the world when she has all but given up. The audience finally gets to see Selena laughing and happy again, like in the scene at the grocery store, when she is in the company of Frank and Hannah, so we get a small glimpse of the person she was before the apocalypse. Selena soon attaches herself to Hannah in particular and becomes determined to keep her safe and sheltered, though Hannah proves to be very tough herself and wise beyond her years. After Frank’s untimely and unexpected death, Selena shows even more of her human side when she allows herself to break down crying with Jim, expressing her feelings about not wanting Hannah to suffer, which is a complete turn from the supposedly selfish Selena that the audience is first introduced to.
When the group gets to the soldier-occupied mansion, they discover that there is more to fear from the new world than just the infected. The soldiers initially present themselves as a possible safe haven, but Selena still keeps her guard up around them, not yet fully trusting them. In the dinner table scene, she seems concerned about their cowboy attitude, which is only exacerbated later when one of the soldiers makes an aggressive sexual advance toward her. The audience’s worst fears are confirmed when Jim learns from the leader, West, that the soldiers plan on raping the girls–even young Hannah–in order to, as they say, repopulate the world again. Selena is obviously scared herself but her main concern in this situation is Hannah. She doesn’t risk getting herself killed by fighting back against the soldiers because she knows she needs to be there for the young girl. In a desperate attempt to protect her, Selena gives Hannah pills that will make her “not care” about what may happen to her–yet she doesn’t take any of the pills herself. Thankfully, the soldiers do not get the chance to rape the girls, as Jim appears to save them. His violent attack of the men makes Selena think for a minute that he is infected, and though he’s just rescued her, she is still prepared to put him down with her machete if she needs to.
A few quick cuts show the audience that Selena has returned the favor to Jim by saving him from a gunshot wound, and the final scene shows the three characters supposedly living much safer together in a rural cottage. Selena has found her family and her happiness again in the apocalypse. Though the film ends with her, Jim and Hannah trying to get the attention of a plane flying overhead, her smile indicates to us that she would be okay where she is even if they don’t get rescued. Selena’s journey through 28 Days Later makes her the perfect horror heroine. At the beginning, she shows her adeptness for this new world by being resourceful and fierce, and over time reveals her true, compassionate self that helps save herself and Hannah at the end. Selena is truly a Noteworthy Heroine of Horror.