Sunday, June 29, 2014

Doomsday

There's always talk about who the next great horror directors are, the next generation of filmmakers heir to the legacies of John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and David Cronenberg. For a time, I considered Neil Marshall to be at the head of the class. His first two films, Dogs Soldiers and The Descent, demonstrated enormous promise and skill, and I eagerly awaited his killer virus movie, Doomsday (2008). Like Dog Soldiers, Marshall draws heavily heavily on genre classics, most notably Escape from New York, The Road Warrior, and 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, instead of creating a kinetic, entertaining blend as he did with his werewolf movie, Marshall really doesn't give the material a fresh enough take; you're better off watching the older movies he borrows from.

Twenty-seven years after a deadly pathogen known as the Reaper Virus resulted in the quarantine of Scotland, the virus has re-emerged in London. Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is chosen by her chief (Bob Hoskins) to lead a team into Scotland after satellite footage reveals the existence of survivors in the wasteland. Sinclair and her team search for Dr. Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell), a scientist who was researching the virus when the wall went up, and the higher-ups think he might have a cure. But Scotland proves to be a lawless, violent place filled with cannibals, psychos, and other crazies who don't care much for outsiders.

Doomsday's big problem, apart from its lack of originality, is that it gets bogged down with too much uninteresting material. The aforementioned movies it borrows from didn't spend too much time explaining their background, content to imply things and give little hints here and there, so there was some fun to imagine how things got the way they did in these worlds. We don't know how Snake Plisken lost his eye, for example, or what made him go from war hero to outlaw. Here, Sinclair is clearly an attempt to be a female, British Snake Plisken, right down to her bad-ass attitude and one eye, but we see Eden lose her eye as a child during the evacuation of Scotland and pine over her now-presumed dead mother who got her on a helicopter just as the wall went up. Time is also spent on the Prime Minister (Alexander Siddig) and his top official Canaris (David O'Hara, talking like he's got something in his throat which I guess is supposed to be menacing) politicking about why they need the cure and how Canaris plans to use the outbreak as an excuse to seize power, and it really goes nowhere.

There's also so much about the plot that makes little-to-no sense. Sinclair and her small team are sent with minimal equipment and no support because the Prime Minister and Canaris want to keep the operation a secret. Why? The virus is running rampant through London and the people are rioting. In Scotland, people have turned to cannibalism despite the presence of rabbits and herds of cows and the fact the ecosystem doesn't seem too messed up in places to grow crops, and the people still have perfect white teeth. The armored vehicles Sinclair's team arrive in prove unrealistically vulnerable to under-powered projectiles such as rocks, arrows, and Molotov cocktails. At the end, when Sinclair and what's left of her team, after they learn there's no cure, bring an immune survivor out, saying they can use her blood to manufacture a vaccine, it just reeks of bullshit. If that's really all it takes to stop this virus, a) why didn't they get out of Scotland earlier when they first met up with this person, and b) why couldn't the military have swooped in with a helicopter, snatched the first person they could, and get out of instead of sending in eight people, two of whom who aren't even armed, on the ground on a suicide mission?

Maybe all this would have been more compelling with interesting characters and better dialogue, but the characters, despite the presence of talented actors, are mostly lifeless and boring, and the dialogue is painfully stilted with its attempt to sound cool and tough. When McDowell turns up, he gets utterances such as "In the land of the infected, the immune man is king" and "But there is no cure. There never was. We had prevailed here, not because of science but through natural selection. Survival of the fittest. We have earned the right to live here." On the team, no one apart from Sinclair has anything resembling a personality, not even Sean Pertwee or Darren Morfitt, the standouts of Dog Soldiers. Hoskins gets little to do apart from look worried. Mitra is convincingly tough, but the script makes me question the character's judgment because her decisions get a number of folks killed, and her one-liners aren't memorable.

The only times Doomsday comes to life, ironically, are the death scenes. Marshall loves his splattery gore, and we get a lot of decapitations, limbs lopped off, arrows in the throat, and axes to the brain. One man is burned alive and devoured, and the leader of the cannibal punks, Sol (Craig Conway, the only person with dialogue who seems to be enjoying himself.), doesn't take his girlfriend's death too well, duct-taping her head to her body and riding with it in a car. Gorehounds might be able to enjoy the film strictly for the splatter, but be warned: Marshall employs shaky camera and rapidly-cut editing to irritating effect so you can't always tell what's happening, only realizing a character was killed when he doesn't turn up in the next scene.

Marshall does employ a few nice touches for humorous effect. McDowell has set up a medieval kingdom in a castle where his followers wear suits of armor and carry swords, and the castle still has the former tourist and gift shop signs hanging around. Sol and his cannibals have a truly whacked-out cabaret-like dance number on stage with topless women and men in kilts just before they eat someone; it's completely out of left field, but it has more energy than any other scene, even if these guys shamelessly dress like the biker gang from The Road Warrior.

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