Doomsday (2008)

I have seen the future of genre filmmaking, and the future is Neil Marshall. With his latest film, Doomsday, Marshall takes great steps forward from his previous two efforts - the technically flawed but immensely enjoyable Dog Soldiers (2002), and the claustrophobic and nerve-shreddingly taut (easily forgiving a few plot-necessitating lapses in logic) The Descent (2005). With Doomsday, Marshall takes us out of the tight sets that marked the first two films and places us within the confines of a country gone horribly, horribly wrong....Scotland?!?!

The story here centres around bodacious, bad-ass babe Rhona "don't call me Kate Beckinsale" Mitra's Maj. Sinclair, 25 or so years removed from her rescue from the festering, plague-ridden Scotland. You see, all those years ago, a virus - the Reaper virus (with alarmingly similar symptoms to that other big, bad British virus, the Rage virus) to be exact - broke out in Scotland, and spread at such an alarming rate that Britain was forced to quarantine the entire northern half, eschewing bagpipes, haggis and kilts in favour of a relative sense of security. What, Mad Cow isn't scary enough anymore? A massive metallic wall was built encircling the Highlands (in the amount of time of time it took for the virus to spread? I digress...), and the diseased were left to die, or to fend for themselves after the gate was shut. Sinclair's mother pleaded with the occupants of the final army helicopter leaving the zone for her young daughter to be lifted to safety, and after some hesitation, up she went. Flash forward 25 odd years and the Reaper virus has reared its ugly head again, this time on the "safe" side of the wall, and begins to spread like yuppies in Parkdale. Sinclair, now an elite commando, is recruited by a somewhat shady government branch and asked to re-enter the now barren Scotland in search of the mysterious Dr. Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell), the touchstone for all research on the cure for the virus, and whose whereabouts are currently unknown. She is given 48 hours to succeed or be left behind the wall for good. So, with this rather protracted, but necessary, setup (the first 25 minutes of the film), we are brought behind the wall.....

And really, not much more can be said, other than HOLY SHIT, there is more adrenaline -pumping action packed in the final two-thirds of the film than I can recall ever having seen before. It is relentless, it is brutal, and it really opened my eyes to the general anemia of the modern day action film (barring Rambo, which is virtually unmatched). The action literally does not stop for a good hour, and by the end I felt exhausted, bruised, and oh so good. There is really far too much to describe, but description would not do the high-octane action justice - it must be seen to be believed. The film has had dissenters, most of whom have labeled it a cheap rip-off. Certainly, while there are very obvious reference points here - the entire Mad Max trilogy (particularly The Road Warrior), 28 Weeks Later, The Warriors, The Cars That Ate Paris - Marshall puts it all in a blender, amps up the violence, adds a unique sense of subtle British humour and a particular political message, that, while not profound, certainly gives the action a bit of weight. And compare Sol's (Craig Conway) post-apocalyptic dystopian family, Kane's medieval fiefdom, and the supposedly safe zone of ersatz PM Canaris' (David O'Hara) Britain and you'll realize that though they differ on the surface, they are altogether identical underneath. Some food for thought there. While the finished product touches on those that have come before, it takes off from there and becomes its own unique, hybridized creature, all sinews and amphetamine rage.

So while Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer keep pumping out PG-rated MTV inspired drivel, I'll keep looking to Marshall to surprise, excite and entertain (and keep on making films that begin with the letter "D"). Good on you, Neil - nice to see the little guys finally win one...


La Sporgenza said...

Sorry.... all I got was the cheap rip off part. Notwithstanding some rather inventive action scenes, this one felt like a retread of the last thirty end-of-the-world movies I've seen. The anarchist mohawk and piercings thing has been done too many times now and, try as I might, I just couldn't get into it. I think at some point my ability to suspend disbelief and look past gapping plot holes and fully meandering storylines just stopped working. It's not that it didn't have it's moments - but more to the point - none of them were actually Doomsday's moments … they were mostly reworkings of some earlier movie, someone else's vision and a concept already explored. Lord knows there has to be more than just a few ways for the candle to snuff out on humanity. If, when the time comes, roving punk bands really do rule our lawless barren planet, I'm gonna be truly miffed.

I found the whole affair a little boring to be honest.

the coelacanth said...

a few things:
1) there may well be (barely) 30 end of the world movies, but you're claiming to have seen them all?
2) the "roving punk bands" are not at all associated with the end of days here - on the contrary, they are in fact one of two groups that has adapted inside a relatively very small and specific geographic zone.
3) to quote from one of my favourite blogs (and a big inspiration for staring this one), chris alexander's blood spattered blog:
"Like Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie, Marshall liberally and openly cribs entire sequences, themes and characters from the great genre pictures of his video store haunting youth. DOOMSDAY joyously ‘borrows’ elements from everything from Boris Sagal’s THE OMEGA MAN, Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS, George Miller’s MAD MAX 2, Zack Snyder’s remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD, Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE and most importantly John Carpenter’s ESACPE FROM NEW YORK (Mitra is essentially Snake Plisskin, complete with eye patch and lone wolf outlaw attitude, and Tyler Bate’s awesome pulsing electronic score is a direct quote of everything Carpenter the musician has ever composed); but unlike Tarantino and Zombie, Marshall isn’t pointing neon arrows to his individual influences, choosing instead to smear them together into a seamless, bloody, heart pounding paste. Look for them, and they’re there but blink and you’ll miss them."

whatever - i'm not going to convince you and you're not going to convince me - we'll agree to disagree on this one (like you and kris with the fountain....)

the coelacanth said...

to say nothing of your (freudian?) tiptoeing around the proper spelling of "gaping"....yes, i went there....

La Sporgenza said...

Temper, temper... I was just commenting on the film as I saw it there Coolchange. Take a fucking pill.

Just to verify....

28 Days Later
A Boy and his Dog
Damnation Alley
The Day After
The Day After Tomorrow
The Day The World Ended
DefCon 4
Panic In Year Zero
Fail Safe
The Final War
In The Year 2889
Le Dernier Combat
The Last Man
The Last Man on Earth
Mad Max
The Road Warrior
Beyond Thunderdome
Miracle Mile
Night Of The Comet
The Omega Man
On The Beach
Panic In Year Zero
The Postman
The Quiet Earth
The War Game
When Worlds Collide
The World, the Flesh, and the Devil
Where Have All The People Gone?
Escape from New York
I am Legend
Patch Adams

Which makes ...ahhh.. well, 36 to be exact and yes, I've seen them all.

Should I address this response to Chris at fangoria.com seeing that you've simply "joyously borrowed" his opinion and don't seem to have one of your own?

Also...I loved The Fountain.

the coelacanth said...

isn't imdb wonderful?

La Sporgenza said...

Too true. I could only think of about 20 or so off the top of my head and a Google search did indeed fill in another dozen or so.

In all seriousness, you briefly noted in your original review the logic lapse associated with the secret construction of a 30' double steel wall across 120km of open British countryside, completed - or so it seemed - in about a week without anyone noticing. Watching Doomsday required (at the very least) that the viewer ignore this obvious logistical impossibility and take for granted that this feat was accomplished. In doing so, the audience is apparently then able to enter the spirit of the filmmaker's construct and get on with enjoying the bloody and violent spectacle of it all... and therein lays the basic problem I have with present-day genre film making. We have to swallow too many of these conceits. The authenticity of the vision is undermined (even in a purely fantasy world) by demanding these endless leaps of faith. Regardless of whether I wanted to or not, I lost interest in Doomsday once I was expected to buy into 25 years worth of hourly hi-resolution satellite photographs simply missing several thousand virus survivors driving around in great whacking Mad Max buses, cooking each other over giant bonfires in the region's largest city. Even the CIA would have even accidentally figured that one out.

In my haste to malign you, I probably took too specific a position on Doomsday. This film isn't even a particularly distressing example of the problem, just indicative of the general laziness affecting present day scriptwriters in getting the underlying logic of their stories at least partially believable. It seems that the term “genre film making” has somehow come to excuse massive plot inconsistencies and grant scriptwriters a get-out-of-logic-jail-free card. If the script is only meant to loosely connect various set pieces, the least they could do is write them with an eye to some plausibility. Without a little reason, I find it increasingly difficult to forgive the excesses and just hop on for the ride.

I guess my complaint about Doomsday distils down to this: Plausibility lends gravity to storytelling. If too many leaps of faith are required or too much dramatic licence taken by the film's writer/maker, the final picture suffers. Marshall may have got the aesthetic, the pacing, the action and the casting right but the whole story is built on a bunch of nonsense that even a child would (could and should) see through. The frustrating part is it wasn't necessary. If they had skipped the voice-over intro and dropped the plot padding of the evil politicos and their nefarious plan to let nature thin the herd, a terrific and haunting little chase movie might have evolved. What I liked about Dog Soldiers (although truth be told, I can't remember exactly what happens) was the intimacy its limited budget forced. There didn't seem to be the same aching desire to have Malcolm McDowell explain what werewolves were and where they came from that undermined Doomsday's opening credits. Great Sci-Fi/Fantasy, of which there are precious few, just puts you in the story. The worst example that I can recall is The Thirteenth Warrior from a few years back. After a twenty minute lead-in voice-over explaining 10 years of back story, the film finally got started. If the setup takes more than two lines of narration, you didn't shoot enough film might be the lesson here.

Your thoughts?

the coelacanth said...

yeah, you certainly make some good points - i probably didn't allow the film to sink in enough before i wrote the review, but the massive plot holes do indeed detract from the film's impact. i still think the action sequences, while trodding familiar ground were extremely well done. my view of the film has lessened somewhat over the past few days since i initially watched it, but the visceral impact it had on me led to my rather gushing review. in my excitement to write about the fact that there is something to be excited about in "action" films again, i overlooked the fact that the film itself is rather weak...
regardless, i'd recommend this over what currently passes for action movies (hollywood only - not talking about asia, or rambo) any day to someone looking for some mindless fun...
and yes, i'd rather have syphilis (again) than have to sit through the 13th warrior a second time.

La Sporgenza said...

Now I feel a bit guilty about sucking the joy out of the first new movie in eons that you actually liked. I do concur completely that Marshall out-genre's the Frankenbay monsters every time.... if that's any consolation. Doomsday is a damn sight better than the bloody Fountain too.

Dropkick said...

wait.. wait. Did Scott say he liked The Fountain... no way.