Doomsday

(2008)

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

If you’ve ever stumbled across a notorious critical and commercial bomb on cable and thought, Hey, this isn’t so bad, this is the column for you. Each month, we’ll examine a new failed film that’s worth a second look.

And imagine the first serious competition to the Deutsche dummkopf Uwe Boll as “worst director” working today, thanks to this mad and maddening mash-up genre picture. — Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

In 2006, director Neil Marshall scored with The Descent, a fast, jolty cave-zombie freakfest. So why’s he following it up with this sci-fi action trash? — Gregory Kirschling, Entertainment Weekly

But if you can accept this farrago of nonsense, and enjoy simulated beheadings and lopped-off hands and massive spurts and splashes of blood, this may be the movie for you. — Phillip Marchand, Toronto Star

Film critics are often accused of being snobs. When we collectively bash a mainstream studio picture that seemingly everyone else just loves, we are seen as being stuffy and out of touch with people who just want to be entertained. More often than not, this is untrue. When a film gets a collective beatdown by the critical community, it’s usually for a very good reason. Let’s face it, if mass popularity was the yardstick by which quality was measured, the Scary Movie films would be considered classic works of art. It’s for this reason that we have critics. We often act as the vocal minority explaining why the latest Twilight movie isn’t the greatest use of film since Orson Welles uttered, “Rosebud.” But very occasionally — I stress the words “very occasionally” — film critics are snobs.

Such was the case with Doomsday. While Rogue Pictures didn’t do the film any favors by giving it a barely-there marketing push and refusing to screen it for the critics, perhaps the biggest problem was the fact that writer/director Neil Marshall was viewed by many in the critical community as “slumming it.” Coming off the critical and commercial success of the terrifying horror film The Descent, Marshall refused to meet the expectations of another smart, challenging genre film. Instead, he embraced his inner twelve-year-old and crafted a ridiculously violent mash up of horror, action, sci-fi, and comedy that was big, loud, and incredibly stupid. Yes, Marshall was slumming it, but fortunately, his slum was an extremely fun place to visit.

The film opens with a prologue narrated by Malcolm McDowell. It’s seven minutes of exposition that lays out how Scotland was decimated by the “Reaper Virus” in 2008. A sort of supercharged ebola virus that killed anyone who contracted it, the British government was unable to find a cure. Faced with the possible infection of the entire nation, the decision was made to construct a giant wall along the site of the original Hadrian’s Wall, sealing off Scotland, condemning those left behind to die. In the mad rush to escape as the last gate is closing, a little girl is rescued by some British soldiers. In the pandemonium, she is shot, losing her right eye.

The film then jumps to “the present day” — in this case, the year 2035. The little girl has grown up to become Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra). Equipped with a robotic eye in place of her missing one, she is now an ass-kicking Major for the U.K. State Police. When the “Reaper Virus” is discovered in a drug-infested London ghetto, Prime Minister Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) and his right hand man Canaris (David O’Hara) spring the news on the police chief/Eden’s surrogate father figure (Bob Hoskins) that satellite photos have discovered survivors in Glasgow. Assuming that survivors might mean the possibility of a cure, they send in a small military team headed by Eden to track down Kane (McDowell), a doctor who was working in Glasgow to cure the virus when the gates were closed.

All of this plot setup is just a reason for Marshall to indulge in over-the-top action and horror sequences that borrow (steal) liberally from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, George A. Romero’s Dead series, and George Miller’s Mad Max films. Yes, it’s all incredibly derivative, and no, Marshall does not improve on the classic films he’s ripping off, but at least he steals from the best and uses the disparate parts to craft a slick action flick that is purely entertaining. In this day and age of action films with portentous tones and dour heroes, Doomsday is a refreshing alternative. Marshall plants his tongue firmly in cheek and offers up one kinetic display of action after another, dropping in just enough scenes of exposition to keep it from being completely nonsensical.

But Marshall knows the audience for this film isn’t interested in story. They want to see car chases, brutal hand-to-hand combat, shocking scenes of carnage, and severed heads flying at the camera while still screaming. He serves all of these ingredients up with gusto. Even better, in a batshit crazy turn of events, he suddenly plunges the film into a medieval side trip as the team discovers Kane living like a King in an old castle that was turned into a tourist trap at some point in the past (the sign for the gift shop still hangs on the wall). This leads to a riff on films like Gladiator and Braveheart that plays more like a straight spoof than homage. It’s a tonally bizarre twenty minutes, but it’s always entertaining.

If not for the excellent production values, technical skills of the crew, and Marshall’s eye for visual flair, Doomsday could be an ’80s Cannon film. The script, with its derivative plot, barely sketched characters, and dependence on catering to the lowest common denominator, certainly fits the bill. As does the cartoonish, loopy, anything-goes tone that is gleefully pushed well into the realms of bad taste (a cute bunny rabbit gets blown to smithereens by a robotic sentry, a man is cooked on a giant spit and devoured).

I don’t necessarily disagree with my fellow critics about the movie being stupid. The difference is that Marshall intentionally made it out to be a stupid exercise in violent, over-the-top excess. That he received such a big budget for his vision and pulled it off may be why the film failed both critically and commercially. It’s trashy and definitely not art, but comparing Doomsday to the work of Uwe Boll is beyond ridiculous. Even worse, it’s just plain snobby.

Matt Wedge is a writer and film critic currently doing time in the suburbs of Connecticut.

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