Reviews

Doomsday

All the satirical/B-movie homage aspects of this movie emerge only in retrospect: not during the actual viewing itself.


Doomsday

Director: Neil Marshall
Cast: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcom McDowell, David O’Hara
Distributor: Universal
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2008-07-29

If you succumb to the nameless virus that is featured in Doomsday, one of two things will happen to you. If you prove to be infected, then you will become bloody, bloated, and spray a lot of vomit over passersby, forcing the government to quarantine you in whatever area you happen to live in. If you somehow are immune to the virus, then you emerge some 30 years later looking like an extra from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Either way, the effects are devastating.

Doomsday is a very unfortunate film, and easily the worst thing that Neil Marshall has ever set his lens upon. Marshall started out promising with the 2002 werewolf horror flick Dog Soldiers, which smartly (and wisely) stepped away from genre conventions to create something with a bit more grit and impact. Yet it was 2005’s The Descent that caused a real stir: a film that was A) profoundly scary, B) a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on feminism in genre flicks, and C) one of the single greatest horror movies to be produced within the past decade -- a statement that, surprisingly, is really not all that hyperbolic.

Naturally, Marshall was given bigger budgets to expand his ideas in the wake of his success with The Descent, but unfortunately he chose to follow up that masterpiece with Doomsday, a film that not only is riddled with clichés, but proves to waste the talents of its director, it’s A-list cast, and the incredible production designers that still were able to make a post-apocalyptic Glasgow look incredibly (and frighteningly) real. Really, it’s just a damn shame all around.

In our present day, a violent virus breaks out in Glasgow, eventually forcing a quarantine on all of Scotland, letting its inhabitants slowly die until the virus is eradicated (the first of one of many elements liberally borrowed from the far superior 28 Days Later). One survivor is a young girl named Eden Sinclair, who unfortunately, had her eye shot out mere minutes before being flown out of the quarantine zone.

Thirty years later, she’s the star player of an elite government task force, now equipped with a mechanical eye that allows her to see around corners and do other things that most special effects departments dream of doing on any movie project. Her superior (Bob Hoskins) brings her in to lead a top-secret mission into the heart of Glasgow: the virus that ravaged Scotland 30 years ago is now breaking out in England, and -- oddly -- airborne photos show that life has somehow emerged in the quarantine zone three years ago, giving hope to the notion that a cure might exist. Sinclair has 48 hours to bring her rag-tag group of soldiers (most all of whom get knocked off early on, eliminating any real connection we might have towards them) into the quarantine zone, find a cure, and emerge again, saving all of England in the process.

Of course, things don’t work out as planned, and though Sinclair’s crew is given a starting point with the facility where Dr. Kane worked (the one man who at least had the tools to develop a cure), it’s not long before they’re attacked by a series of Mohawk-donning savages who seem to have emerged directly from a terrible early-80s biker club, all gussied up in makeup, mohawks, and hairdye. Much mayhem occurs, many people die, and Sinclair is captured, tortured, and interrogated by the venomous Fine Young Cannibals-loving Sol (the excellent Craig Conway).

Predictably, Sinclair manages to escape, saves Sol’s sister from imprisonment, and is soon whisked off to where Dr. Kane (Malcom McDowell) has holed himself up at: a medieval castle. Factor in the very Death Race 2000-aping car chase at the end, and you ultimately wind up with an action film that tries to be everything to everyone: a zombie flick, a cop thriller, a car chase movie, and a medieval fight fest all at once. To describe this film as “muddled” or “scattershot” would be a gross understatement ...

Given Marshall’s absolute mastery over both tension and emotional gravitas (as proven with The Descent), it’s truly disinheriting to sit through all of Doomsday, as we’re given a lead character who is neither uninvolving ‘nor engaging: Eden Sinclair simply exists for the purposes of kicking ass, the umpteenth Ripley knockoff we’ve seen emerge in modern cinema. The sets are ludicrous, the violence incredibly graphic (the worst stuff is in the first 20 minutes, though), the dialogue barely digestible.

All in all, we have the makings of a pitch-perfect B-movie, which would be fine were it not for the fact that Doomsday takes itself way too seriously. The opening montage/narration echoes back to classic horror films of past (getting the premise out of the way so the gore technicians can take over), but there is not a single bit of irony to be found anywhere within the film, as all the notions of it being an homage or tribute to schlock cinema of past only emerges in retrospective reflection, not during the actual viewing itself. Even the great Malcom McDowell feels like a parody of himself as Dr. Kane, even going as far as to calling his own character a mix of MacBeth and King Lear in one of the DVD featurettes. At 90-minutes, this film would have been somewhat easier to take in; at nearly two hours, it’s a test in viewer patience.

This is not to say that the movie is without its redeeming moments (Marshall does fight sequences like few others can), but Doomsday hurts its own cause with the sparse, uninteresting bonus features that are tacked on, most appalling of which is the “unrated” version of the film. Given that the original cut was incredibly violent as is, it’s stunning to see that this “unrated” cut (billed on the cover of the box as being “2 Movies In 1!”), adds a paltry four minutes to the original cut’s running time, and even then only tends to go into expository character features, explaining why Eden is killing the unrelated gang of bad guys at the beginning (they’re modern-day slave traders, we learn). The commentary -- with Marshall and a seemingly haphazard smattering of cast members -- is dry and uninvolving, Marshall at one point admitting that his process simply boiled down to this: “Let’s put all these stereotypes in a movie and ... why not?”

Looking back at this regrettable and (sadly) forgettable bloodfest, “why not?” seems like the only justification for why Doomsday exists in the first place.

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