Friday, April 3, 2009

DVD Review: Doomsday

Watching Neil Marshall’s Doomsday is like watching a loved one make mistake after mistake – you know what they’re capable of and the good they can create, but really because you care about them so much you have to just sit and watch them fail, because it’s for the better. Doomsday encapsulates this feeling; a pastiche of post-apocalyptic /80’s action films, Marshall pays homage, or, let’s just call it like it is – apery, to films like Escape From New York, Mad Max, Aliens, and even modern video games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil; however, the only way in which Marshall’s film succeeds is in making the viewer wish they were watching the source material that Marshall borrows from. All I can say is that I hope the failings of this film will provide Marshall with an adequate “what not to do” list for his next picture.

One of Marshall's homages -- the silhoutted infected
reminded me of the above pic from Lamberto Bava's Demons

The film opens with a virus infecting Scotland. A wall is built on the border of Scotland and England in order to isolate the infected. Evil shenanigans ensure from politicians who seek to kill off the entire city and then claim there is a cure at just the right moment. Of course, as we know with films like this, anytime that Marshal Law is declared things go haywire rather quickly.

We are introduced to the main character Eden Sinclair (great name) when she is a little girl. Her mom is trying to get her across the wall so that she will be safe. As the riot ensues (caused by the chaos of Marshal Law) shots are fired and one of the bullets strikes Eden in the eye. Her mom does indeed find her a ride out of the chaos, but Eden is left with only a letter with a return address as evidence that her mother existed. She flies off and we learn about the history of the virus and how it died off.

Flash forward many years (or as Marshall puts it “2036 NOW”) as a much older, sexier Eden dons an eye-patch (like Snake from Escape From New York, just one of thousands of John Carpenter references) and a gun, and we see that she and her partner are infiltrating a slave operation. This gives Marshall the opportunity to make references to James Cameron action films and show lots of blood. There’s even a nod to Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond with one of the nastiest looking shotgun deaths I’ve ever seen. We learn that Eden is cold and dethatched, even after her partners’ death all she cares about is that they got the job done. Word comes across the wire to her boss (the always great Bob Hoskins) about the big bad virus coming back and how they think they find a cure for it….so naturally Eden is a perfect fit for a top secret operation that involves taking a team of troops into the no man’s land in order to find Dr. Kane (Malcom McDowell) who may know about the cure.

There’s your story. Along the way we get oodles of references to Aliens (rag-tag group of military who all specialize in something, and spout off quirky lines under stress; also there is a scene, a great scene, where they search Kane’s laboratory and it evokes the great scene in Aliens where they find Newt), Mad Max, and the other aforementioned films. However, it’s about this point in the film (about 40 mins. in) that Doomsday lost me. Once the Mad Max stuff started happening and you had the torture and the psycho-punk, post-apocalyptic junk involving anarchy and cannibalism, I was just ready for the film to move forward. I don’t care how bloody or wink wink Marshall’s film is, it just wasn’t interesting.

Seriously, the entire ending is filmmed like this --nothing more than a car commercial. I half expecting to hear Jeff Bridges tell me about "the open road..."

Not only did I not dig the Mad Max stuff, but that’s only part of the film! When they escape from these psycho punk rockers the film turns into Lord of the Rings (seriously) and then turns into a weird mix between Army of Darkness, Gladiator, and George Romero’s Knightriders. You see, because the government neglected the other side of the wall, evolution took over as history repeated itself and it became survival of the fittest. Therefore you have a dystopian society with the Mad Max portion of the film, and then a call back to the medieval days with the second half of the film. This is where Eden and her crew (down to just three people now, per horror film standards about the dead weight getting knocked off, think Aliens again) find Dr. Kane as he is ruler of his “kingdom”. It’s just a strange, strange moment and I never got into it. From here the film takes another bizarre u-turn as Eden finds that Kane has been hording all sorts of goodies in an abandoned mine – these goodies include cell phones and a really nice car….after that the film goes back to the Mad Max portion while simultaneously turning into a car commercial – Marshall even films it so.

The film is a mess, and it’s a damn shame too because I love Marshall. Doomsday’s sum is never quite as good as its parts, as I was constantly entertained or enthralled, but I just didn’t give a crap about it. You see, that’s the difference between this Marshall film and his masterpiece The Descent, which was also art through imitation. The difference being that The Descent had characters and situations involving their past that we cared about. With Doomsday Marshall completely abandons the reasoning why Eden would be so inclined to go on a suicide mission, and really, only is it at the end that they call back to the fact that she constantly sought her mother’s home and to know who she was.

Many people give Quentin Tarantino a hard time because they believe he doesn’t do anything different in his films than what Marshall does with Doomsday, but I would disagree, as again, you can look no further than Marshall’s previous film and see the same style on display in Doomsday, just with more substance to it. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote a review for the New York Times when the film was released, and really his final line of the review best encapsulates what’s so wrong with Marshall’s film:

In terms of story, “The Descent” and “Doomsday” are as different as two genre films can be, but the falloff in artistic quality is still quantifiable. Where “The Descent” was a slow, quiet, exquisitely modulated, startlingly original film, “Doomsday” is frenetic, loud, wildly imprecise and so derivative that it doesn’t so much seem to reference its antecedents as try on their famous images like a child playing dress-up. Homage without innovation isn’t homage, it’s karaoke.

So it’s a missed opportunity. As I said it’s an entertaining movie, but really it never goes beyond that. It’s a gore fest and gore hounds will be satisfied, but there’s no context for the gore, so really we just see fake heads rolling around on display and excruciatingly long chase scenes that never end all because Marshall had a budget, and used every last cent of it. And that rock score, my God it thumps and bumps and blares throughout, never ceasing, not even for a quick reprieve, and really, I guess that’s a good metaphor for how this film plays. Marshall just seemed overwhelmed with all the goodies at his disposal, and it reminded me of the carefree, kitchen sink style of filmmaking displayed by Sam Raimi in the third Spider-Man film. I’m glad Marshall had fun, and I’m glad he has the budget now to do what he wants. It was a nice vacation, but it’s time for Mr. Marshall to get back to work.


  1. Fascinating.

    Would you believe me if I told you I just recently (as in, in the past two weeks) saw The Descent? I was impressed.

    This, however, sounds like a train wreck.

    One day I'll see it, though. Thank you for this review, Kevin!

  2. Alexander:

    Thank you for the very kind words. I always appreciate it when you stop by and leave your thoughts. I would definitely reccomend you see "Doomsday" because it will make you appreciate "The Descent" so much more. Just be prepared to hit the fast forwrad button, the film wears on you about an hour into it.

    "The Descent" is one of the most haunting horror films in the last 20 years. It reverberates with a sadness and horror that touches something deeper that is more akin to a great drama than a horror film. The oodles of references found in "The Descent", as I stated in this review, are more nuanced, too.

    I could talk for hours on "The Descent". I really look forward to your thoughts on the film. I hope you decide to write a review about your experience with the film.

    Thanks again for stopping by, Alexander!

  3. Yeah, your review plus those of others makes me feel like I can skip this.

    I really am interested in where Marshall goes next, because he obviously loves genre film and has the talent to film it well. His next two projects look to be a gladiator film and a stuntman-on-the-run film (with Hugh Jackman). I'm guessing those are two genres rife with possibilities for him to succeed or fail (or in my way of thinking, move closer to a Tarantino or to a DePalma).

  4. Hmmm...based on what you say about his next two film, he is becoming a Tarantino and DePalma. I never thought about DePalma. Well we'll see what happens. The problem might be that I have no interest in the post-apocalyptic genre or the gladiator genre, hehe. Hopefully his talent outweighs some of the odd projects he chooses to do.