A lethal virus spreads throughout Scotland, infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands. To contain the threat, acting authorities brutally quarantine the country as it succumbs to fear and chaos. The quarantine is successful. Three decades later, the Reaper virus violently resurfaces in London. An elite group of specialists, including Eden Sinclair, is urgently dispatched into Scotland to retrieve a cure by any means necessary. Shut off from the rest of the world, the unit must battle through a landscape that has become a waking nightmare.
/ South Africa
Directed by: Neil Marshall
. Starring: Caryn Peterson
, Adeola Ariyo
, Emma Cleasby
, Christine Tomlinson
, Vernon Willemse
, Paul Hyett
, Daniel Read
, Karl Thaning
, Stephen Hughes
, Jason Cope
, Ryan Kruger
, Nathan Wheatley
, Cecil Carter
. Music by: Tyler Bates
After Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005), Neil Marshall seemed like the new wunderkind of British horror cinema. His latest, Doomsday, is a markedly different film from his earlier work -' most clearly in it's inability to choose which genre it belongs to. Dog Soldiers clearly leaned in the direction of comedy while The Descent was a masterful lesson in claustrophobic horror, marred only slightly by a number of over the top action scenes in its final act. Doomsday has funny moments, horrible moments, thrilling moments and, more often, moments filled with levels of absurdity which would not feel out of place in a full-blown spoof.
The year is 2033. A quarter of a century has passed since the outbreak of a fatal disease in northern Britain. Scotland has been cut off - segregated behind a barrier closely following the lines of Hadrian's wall. But the disease has returned, the south is threatened and a crack military team (led by Rhona Mitra) is sent into the contaminated zone to find survivors, and a cure. Throw in Marshall's proved abilities to create tension and a little offbeat humour and it sounds like the making of a minor classic, right? Well yes and no. The films' greatest strength is also its biggest liability -' namely nostalgia.
Some films use nostalgia extremely well. A recent example would be Superman Returns. The slow, majestic sweep of the title sequence served to reintroduce us the universe of Superman (literally and figuratively). John Ottman's marginal reworking of John William's superb score was so evocative that it, in conjunction with the familiar (though now CG enhanced) starscapes created a near instant sense of comfort. Superman Returns is homage, Doomsday is convoluted pastiche.
The film is a literal expression of what happens when you give a director too much freedom. After only 2 features, Neil Marshall's track record was simply not strong enough to be allowed this kind of free reign. The result is a mess; the bastard child of a dozen or so 70's and 80's films -' from the Warriors to Mad Max via Escape from New York. It also moves schizophrenically from one genre to the next: near future vistas give way to post-apocalyptic deserted cities (a la 28 Days Later) before moving on to psychedelic dancing cannibals, mobs of bikers and an extended, somewhat unnecessary, car chase. Did I mention there's a medieval section as well that comes off as a nicely shot mash-up of Robin Hood and Gladiator? As a knowing and self-referential piece of cinematic shlock this would be perfectly enjoyable but the fact is that Doomsday takes itself far too seriously. What humour exists is often as blatant as assuming that a stunning woman like Mitra aping almost Snake Plissken worthy dialogue is entertaining. This works, to a point, but it is missing that vital cue for the audience; how are we supposed to take this? In Dog Soldiers there was a healthy sense of the ridiculous, both on the part of the characters and the audience. Likewise in The Descent, we know from the outset that the film will not be lighthearted. Doomsday refuses to make that choice, veering from an overlong dance sequence which looks like the gag reel from a Prodigy music video to the genuinely shocking roasting of a live human being. The contrast of different styles can work within the structure of a film to make the relief of the comedy or the shock of the horror more powerful but when it vacillates this often and this wildly any such affect is lost.
One major point to remember is that the movies which Doomsday references are themselves a mixed bag. That's the thing with nostalgia, its better felt than examined. The original Superman comes across, to me, as strangely elitist these days and Escape from New York is an extremely uneven film. So, in trying to bring these kinds of films together, Marshall has doubly handicapped himself: Firstly, by being limited to sources of varying quality. Secondly, by trying to reference so many other films, the coherence of Doomsday suffers. So much so that each scene begins to resemble a discrete entity, rather than a part of the whole.
Doomsday is, however, a difficult film to truly dislike. There is a kind of manic energy to it, an undercurrent of gleeful nastiness that allows it to bulldoze through the clichés, plot holes and bloated editing. The action is generally well shot and presented and the whole film has a technical polish which we are not used to seeing in British cinema. The acting is generally good and Mitra makes an impressive leading lady, hopefully this will be a breakthrough role for her. As for Neil Marshall, this is without a doubt his weakest film to date and makes one wonder whether he's ready to make the move to big budget film-making (there are rumours he is about to be subsumed into the Hollywood machine). We can only hope he works from a better script with more supervision in the future.
I find it hard to imagine that we will still be talking about Doomsday in twenty years but for all its' faults there is some entertainment to be had. With the right attitude, a DVD turned up loud and a few drinks it might manage to become a minor cult favourite in the future. And, through the quality obscuring mists of nostalgia, maybe that is how a classic is born...
Review by thebackofmyhouse [IMDB 17 July 2008] from the Internet Movie Database.