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Doomsday

Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, Alexander Siddig

(Rogue Pictures; US theatrical: 14 Mar 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 9 May 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [17.Aug.2008]

Mad Girl

Rhona Mitra’s back. If there’s a single image worth contemplating in Doomsday, it’s her strapping lats and shoulders. Whatever else she did to prepare for her work as Major Eden Sinclair, Mitra and her trainers spent serious time hardening her body.


The impressive look is of a piece with the character, such as it is. A typically kick-ass, supremely confident team leader, Eden comes with requisite baggage and attitude issues. As a set-up flashback sequence reveals, she lost her eye to a stray bullet during a panic over the reaper virus in 2017. A voiceover helpfully explains that, as “there was no stopping it, no chemo, no vaccine,” the UK has erected a 30-foot armored security wall, partitioning England from Scotland and leaving the infected northern population to deal with itself. As soldiers shoots at wild crowds, Eden’s mom wraps up her child’s bleeding head and sends her away on a helicopter with armed troops, while she stays behind to face certain death, whether by the virus or the infected crazies (who are marauding over a not-so-distant hill, à la the Living Dead).


However the girl is traumatized by this early memory, she emerges from the experience with choleric outlook intact. In 2035, she’s outfitted with a bionic eye she can pop in and out in order to spy around corners, and takes out targets efficiently, demonstrated in yet another mini-intro, where she leads a SWAT-type team on a raid against very bad people holed up for some reason on a ship. Following the accomplished mission (apparently, “kill everyone”), Eden is congratulated by her mentor, DDS chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins), who makes a squeamish face concerning her eyeball trick, then indicates that if she doesn’t get a hold of her self-defining rage, “You’re gonna end up one seriously fucked up individual.” He doesn’t quite smile. He’s half kidding. 


For her sins, Eden is given a mission from which she’s not supposed to return. And like Willard and Snake Plissken, Eden assumes the worst. Briefed by Canaris (David O’Hara), conniving assistant to Prime Minister Hatcher (Alexander Siddig), she learns she’s supposed to go inside Glasgow and find the mysterious Dr.  Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who may or may not have a cure for the virus. Eden is quick to suss out the reasons for the mission’s secrecy: “If we don’t make it out, no one will know we went in.” This has to do with politics and surveillance cameras and imminent panic concerning a new outbreak of the virus in London. Though Canaris notes this resurgence is “our fault, too many people crowded into ghettoes,” he’s not inclined actually to save any of the plebe population. Rather, he plans to let the virus kill off the rabble and then resurrect a civilization beginning with elite survivors: aside from AIDS conspiracy theories, the devastation inside Glasgow recalls Katrina, laid out as a planned “cleansing.”


Even as Eden and her team, which includes the noble Sergeant Norton (Adrian Lester), drop their jaws at the discovery of such calculated cruelty, they also learn that the folks in Glasgow are a scary, malicious bunch. They’re divided into tribes against each other, one headed by Kane, whose minions are armored like knights and ride horses, and the other, punky sorts led by the mohawked Sol (Craig Conway), who bears more than a passing resemblance to Road Warrior‘s Wez (Vernon Wells), except that his paramour is female and named Viper (Leanne Liebenberg). As if to ensure you understand his venality, Sol and his furious punk-followers are very enthusiastic cannibals to boot: Eden, locked in a cell, overhears the bloodlusty ritual when one of her team members is roasted alive, cut up, and consumed. She remains focused on the task at hand, however, conniving her escape and locating Kane.


This sequence includes a nasty decapitation of a woman enemy as well as the not-so-incidental rescue of a maiden, who wears a long medieval-style dress. The film’s several contrasts between Eden and other women simultaneously set her apart and liken her to Ripley or 28 Days Later‘s Selena (Naomie Harris). A star in search of a franchise, Eden is remarkable mostly for her familiarity. Her lack of affiliation and expertise in all matters destructive make her brief non-carnal admiration for Norton something like an emotional footnote, so she doesn’t seem quite so vile or base as her adversaries.


While Eden draws obvious inspiration from precursors (Linda Hamilton, Kate Beckinsale, Milla Jovovich, even Buffy), she’s also a vaguely new kind of mad girl. Her intimidating back is one indication of the shift she embodies, legible as a sign of her multiple rejections, as well as her resilience and strength. Her morality is practical, her motives conditional. As she comes to understand the venal workings of the government reps who send her forth, she’s increasingly unwilling to follow orders. There is no “greater good,” no political structure worth salvaging or defending, and so opts out, recognizing another sort of order among the cannibals. No matter the ugliness of this order, it does appear transparent, and not designed solely to benefit the most manipulative, least hopeful spin manager. Eden does deploy media to undermine Canaris (in a plot turn that appears naïve, like Three Days of the Condor). But she also perceives that one individual’s punishment will not slow the system in which he’s mired.


Anticipating the direst end, Eden chooses the cannibal punks, declaring herself for them, in terms they appreciate. As the crowd screams and pounds their chests, the camera shows Eden’s back. It’s a grim resolution, even in the post-apocalypse.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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