Review by Jack Foley
WITH his last film The Descent, British director Neil Marshall gave the horror genre a much-needed kick up the backside with his awe-inspiring mix of claustrophobic tension and unflinching violence. Needless to say, hopes were high for its follow-up.
Sadly, Doomsday marks a major step backwards for the filmmaker. Designed as an homage to his favourite movies, the film instead feels like a lazy rip-off of better ideas hung together by the flimsiest of stories.
Opening in present day Scotland as a deadly virus, known as The Reaper Virus, ravages the population, the film quickly finds its residents quarantined to face certain death by the British government.
Twenty-five years later, the virus re-emerges in London and prompts the desperate authorities to investigate sightings of human life north of the border. If the sightings are true, there could be a cure for the virus and it’s up to no-nonsense army major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) to lead in a team of experts to find and retrieve it.
Once there, however, they find themselves caught between two bloodthirsty factions of the virus’ legacy and faced with a desperate race against time to save the day.
Doomsday could and should have been a fun romp through tried and tested horror conventions that enables Marshall to put his own distinct stamp on proceedings. But while there’s a certain audacity to his blatant borrowing from other movies and the insanity of some of his set pieces, there’s no excusing the slipshod way things have been thrown together.
The story lacks any real logic and leaves more questions than answers, while most of the characters seem to exist purely to hurl insults and inflict pain on each other. Needless to say, the violence is extreme and mostly distasteful, including scenes of decapitation and human BBQ that are set against a bizarrely retro ’80s soundtrack (including Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Fine Young Cannibals).
Of the main cast, Rhona Mitra (the original Tomb Raider) somehow emerges with her dignity intact and cuts a suitably convincing action figure but better known cast members such as Malcolm McDowell, Adrian Lester and Bob Hoskins are left to flounder.
McDowell, in particular, seems to be channelling Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in his depiction of a bitter faction leader, while Lester fails to convince on any level as a gung-ho military sergeant. Hoskins, meanwhile, just seems perplexed by the whole debacle unfolding around him and drifts in and out of proceedings with no real effect.
The most disheartening thing about Doomsday, however, is the way that it shamelessly steals from so many sources. The list is endless, whether it’s the virus conceit employed by the likes of I Am Legend and 28 Days Later; the exploitation factor of Grindhouse; the post-apocalyptic mayhem of Mad Max movies The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome; or the renegade feel of Escape From New York, the film barely manages to maintain an identity of its own.
Marshall does at least manage to deliver on one of his ambitions by proving that it is possible to create Hollywood-style carnage with a modest UK budget. But in all other respects, Doomsday is an ill-advised folly that threatens to tarnish a once-promising reputation.
Running time: 105mins
UK DVD Release: September 1, 2008