Director : Neil Marshall
Screenplay : Neil Marshall
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Rhona Mitra (Eden Sinclair), Bob Hoskins (Bill Nelson), Adrian Lester (Norton), Alexander Siddig (John Hatcher), David O’Hara (Michael Canaris), Malcolm McDowell (Kane), Craig Conway (Sol)
Why make one movie when you can make three at once? That seems to have been the thought going through the mind of British writer/director Neil Marshall as he decided how to follow up his superior, claustrophobic underground horror-thriller The Descent (2006). Or, perhaps he watched what Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino did with Grindhouse (2007) and thought, “Why separate the two exercises in trippy postmodern sleaze-making when I can combine them into one?”
Hence, we have Doomsday, an ’80s-style B-movie mash-up that starts out as another plague-wiping-out-much-of-the-human-population scenario with a few bits cribbed from Escape From New York (1981) and morphs briefly into a routine near-future militaristic action movie before taking a hard left into straight-out Mad Max (1979) rip-off territory (where, admittedly, we really haven’t been in a long time), where it happily remains for a good chunk of the running time before pulling an about face and tearing straight into medieval Excalibur (1981) land before veering back toward Mad Max for its grand finale. And you know what the craziest thing about it is? It almost works.
The story opens with a plague dubbed “The Reaper Virus” spreading through Scotland, turning its victims into vomiting, oozing masses of boils and sores. Panicked by the plague’s speed and lethal nature, the British government decides to cut their losses and build a 30-foot steel wall across the land, cutting off Scotland from the rest of Britain and dooming those souls left behind. We then jump ahead three decades and discover that the plague has somehow escaped, and the only way to find a cure is to send someone back into what is left of Scotland because the government has kept secret the fact that some people have somehow survived. Hence, the ones left behind to perish possibly hold the key to the rest of humanity’s salvation.
But who’s going to go back there? The government’s best bet is Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), a hardened police officer who lives like she’s got nothing to lose because her mother sacrificed herself to have her airlifted out of plague-ravaged Scotland as a little girl. Because she’s tough as nails and doesn’t seem to care much about the line between life and death, Eden is the perfect choice to lead a suicide mission into the apocalyptic netherworld, plus it gives her a chance to possibly learn about her own past. On paper, then, Eden is an intriguing character and another addition to Marshall’s impressive line of resolute female characters, but as played by Rhona Mitra, she’s a bit of a bore. All steeliness and no heart, she’s like Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley without any emotional instincts. She might as well be the Terminator.
Once Eden and her team go over the wall, Marshall starts cranking the film’s volume to preposterous levels, first when they encounter Glasgow’s resident denizens, a motley gang of punkish freaks who are led by the screaming, mohawked Sol (Craig Conway) in ritualistic torture, slaughter, and cannibalism. Once Eden and a few others escape from that insanity, they make their way into the hills where they come across a second society, this one led by Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who was once a doctor trying to find a cure for the virus, but now spends his time lording over his minions in a medieval castle. Quite the opposite of Sol’s anarchy, Kane’s society has re-embraced the values of the Middle Ages, including suits of armor, codes of honor, and, of course, the occasional fight-to-the-death arena bloodsport (I guess that’s more ancient Rome than medieval, but whatever).
There’s more--much, much more--but to elaborate any further might ruin the one real pleasure Doomsday offers, which is sitting back and wondering what on earth Marshall is going to throw at you next (given his penchant for gore, that often involves blood and viscera, both human and animal). The story plays like someone dropped several spec scripts and just picked up the pages at random, yet once it’s over, you see that there is a strange order to the chaos. Marshall is no hack, although in this case he seems intent on convincing us that he is. Some of his scenarios are quite inspired, even if they’re all torn from someone else’s pages; but, he goes at it with such enthusiastic gusto that it’s hard to begrudge him the chance to abuse the good will he generated with The Descent and jump off the proverbial cliff. If you decide to go down with him, you might find Doomsday to be a real antidote for Hollywood’s formulaic safety; on the other hand, you might just see it as a big, loud mess.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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