Kevin's Review: Doomsday - Neil Marshall's Growing Pains
by Kevin Powers
March 15, 2008
Neil Marshall's 2006 horror hit, The Descent, will undoubtedly maintain its place on many a fan's top list for years and years to come. The spelunking terror tail was so perfect and delicate in its execution that it set Marshall's career afire and created a palpable fear of caves the same way Jaws did for open-ocean swimming. Sadly, Marshall's follow up, Doomsday, carries over little of the intelligence and artfulness the UK-born writer and director has quickly become known for. Instead, it's almost as if Doomsday is Marshall working his way through a tapas bar trying out a bunch of different foods - the film lacking any real focus and being comprised of many genres that Marshall seems to be "tasting" for the first time. The result is a flavorful, but perplexing and derivative mess that I hope the promising moviemaker doesn't repeat.
From the marketing, Doomsday already has a familiar taste to it. You have a deadly viral outbreak in Scotland that prompts the government to quarantine off the entire country, leaving the infected to die. After thirty-some years, the government sends a team into the "hot zone" to investigate a possible cure, headed by British hottie Rhona Mitra who plays Major Eden. Hhmm…sounds a bit like Resident Evil or 28 Weeks Later. Unlike these familiar films, however, the infected don't actually turn into ravenous undead. Rather, they seem to form a chaotic society of cannibals, replete with tattoos, mohawks and their own psychotic, tribal form of governing. Mad Max or Escape from New York come to mind?
This patchwork and familiarity unfortunately continues throughout the film. While Sol (Craig Conway) leads the insane populace of people-eaters that have taken over the inner cities, Kane (Malcolm McDowell) heads a rival sect that has retreated to the county sides, occupying old Scottish castles and assuming a medieval lifestyle ala King Arthur, complete with leather garb, horses and armor.
Odd juxtapositions, to be sure, and they ultimately don't work. The drastic shifts in environments don't make a lot of sense, and feel totally out of place. This goes for a chase sequence, as well, which immediately follows the scene of Kane's feudal empire. We go from riding on horses to cruising down the highway in a Bentley - a scene that seems right at home in Michael Bay's Bad Boys.
There are many such "huh?" moments in Doomsday. As Marshall pieces together the film from other material and ideas, there are gaping holes in the plot you just have to let go. For instance, how exactly can a 500+ horsepower Bentley Continental not out run some jerry-rigged jalopy that Sol and his thugs have menacingly decked out with bones and body parts? Or, you might ask why the Reaper virus sounds familiar. It should. The virus in Blade II is of the same name, though the two have nothing to do with each other. I don't want to give too much away, but it's safe to say you'll ask yourself similar questions throughout the film. One will probably be, "Hey, I thought this was supposed to be more of a horror flick?" Sorry to say, but it's not. Doomsday is better categorized as blood-filled action.
Despite the numerous and varied shortcomings, I feel like giving Marshall a pass on this. Even with his scattershot approach, I still very much enjoyed Doomsday. The film certainly lacks any degree of consistency of wholeness, but Marshall's blood work and cinematography is top-notch and ever-present. Not only that, Marshall is a pretty young filmmaker, which is why it seems Doomsday is more of a fleeting exercise in testing his interests and limits than it is representative of where he's going. Thankfully, Marshall is slated next to write and direct a horror flick called Sacrilege, which is more in line with The Descent. It's best to just chalk Doomsday up to something akin to adolescent experimentation. Experimenting can be fun, as it is here, as long as it doesn't become a habit.
(And as some might be interested, yes, the Hulk trailer did appear in front of the film. Interestingly, it's not 100% the same trailer we brought you earlier this week. At the tail end of the clip, there's a close-up shot of the Hulk's face, which is pretty nifty.)