A film review by Craig J. Koban


2008, no MPAA rating, 110 mins.

Rhona Mitra: Major Eden Sinclair / Bob Hoskins: Bill Nelson / Alexander Siddig: PM John Hatcher /  Craig Conway: Sol / Lee-Anne Leibenberg: Viper / Malcolm McDowell: Dr. Marcus Kane

Written and directed by Neil Marshall

Quentin Tarantino once famously stated, “I steal from every single movie ever made.  If people don’t like that, then…don’t go see it…I steal from everything.  Great artists steal, they don’t do homages.”  

Pablo Picasso, in the same manner, but perhaps more cogently, stated, “If there is something to steal, then I steal it!” 

Reflecting on those two artists’ words is perhaps the best way that I could discuss DOOMSDAY, which just has to be one of the most derivative films that I have sat through in many a moon.  The antecedents of this horror/sci-fi auctioneer that show themselves in one for or another here are beyond obvious.  Films as far ranging as George Miller’s virtuoso MAD MAX and THE ROAD WARRIOR to John Carpenter’s legendary B-movie classic ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK are clearly notated in DOOMSDAY, as are tough and violent gang films like Walter Hill’s THE WARRIORS, virus-plagued horror films like 28 DAYS LATER, and, yes, John  Boorman’s EXCALIBUR, with its medieval trappings.  

Call it a tribute…call it homage…or call it a blatant rip-off…I guess it all depends on your prerogative. 

Yet, this film never once hides behind any pretentious grandstanding that it’s daring and original.  I don’t think that DOOMSDAY attempts to disguise the fact that it’s a tribute to trashy, hyper-violent, and sordid cult grindhouse classics of yesteryear.  This film looks at the amoral and sensationalistic sensibilities of sci-fi, horror, and action films of the late 70’s and early 80’s and harnesses all of their wicked and ultra-shocking excesses to feverous glee.  Because of the film’s insatiable fondness for these types of films, it occupies an artistic ground that framed Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's’ GRINDHOUSE double feature (DOOMSDAY could have certainly capped off those two films to become a third film in a triple feature).  On some levels, you have to kind of admire its simplicity and focus:  By it’s own director’s admission, DOOMSDAY is “so outrageous you’ve got to laugh.”   

The director in question is a Brit named Neil Marshall, and he certainly is no hack.  This 38-year-old is a self-professed movie geek certainly has talent, not to mention that he is able to make small budgeted films look tremendously large scale (at a paltry - by today’s standards - $30 million, DOOMSDAY looks as good as films three to four times its price tag).  Perhaps even more significant is that Marshall has developed an incredibly loyal cult following for his previous two features, the 2002 UK cult hit DOG SOLDIERS and 2005’s THE DESCENT, which made a real splash both in his home country and abroad.  THE DESCENT (still unseen by me, but an oversight that will soon be corrected) has been hailed as a breakthrough horror picture during an age when the genre has grown stale and repetitive. 

The popularity and critical accolades that fell upon THE DESCENT allowed Marshall to craft his adrenaline charged, blood curdling, and viscerally chaotic wink-wink to the films he has always adored.  DOOMSDAY is, at face value, a post-apocalyptic film that, truth be told, has been done a million times before and most oftentimes to better effect.  However, very rarely have copy-cat films like this been as much raw fun to sit through, not to mention that Marshall is so deliberate during every minute of the film to show that this is a fan boy’s tribute to the exaggerated pandemonium, unbridled carnage, and viscous tempo of the films he’s worshipped from the past.  DOOMSDAY is criminally plagiaristic, but it’s never dull and its unapologetically spirited. 

Some of the elements here are could be classified as blatant forgery: A main hero early on has an eye patch, much like Kurt Russell’s Snake Pliskin; the mission she’s on to enter a fortified city – and on time restraints from her country’s Prime Minister – clearly echoes the same assignment the government gave Pliskin in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK; and the band of malicious marauders and cannibalistic vermin - all decked out in mo hawks, war paint, and multiple piercings - certainly look like the post-apocalyptic antagonists from George Miler’s MAD MAX films.  Even more transparent is the film’s climatic car chase, which looks at times like a shot for shot remake of the grandest scene from the end of THE ROAD WARRIOR.  

The story is this:  Scotland of the future has been quarantined due to a dreaded and deadly virus outbreak that passes from person to person like the common cold.  The government secured all of Scotland behind a vast wall that is guarded 24/7 in hopes of ensuring that the plague does not hit the rest of Europe.  Unfortunately, the “reaper” virus starts to afflict some Londonites, and this really worries the British PM of 2035, John Hatcher (played by the gravel voiced Alexander Siddig).  He and his advisor decide that the best course of action would be to send in a team – off the books, of course – to storm the fortified remains of Scotland and find a cure. 

The Chief of Police, Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins, just okay in a very marginal role) recommends Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) for the job.  She’s a sexy, buff, and ruthlessly rough and tough cop that seems like the progeny of Ellen Ripley.  She was orphaned as a child when he mother evacuated her from Scotland, so she's been...grumpy...ever since.  She has no family, no emotional attachments, and has a real flavor for shooting-first, asking questions later law enforcement – in short, she’s perfect!  She gathers up a squad of brave and ready to rumble grunts (whom all look like rejected military extras from ALIENS) to enter the city.  Things get really dicey when the group is attacked by a sadistic and barbaric gang led by Sol (the truly cagey and nutty Craig Conway), whose own poppa is equally mentally unstable. He’s played by Malcolm McDowell as the leader of a gang that seems to have been dumped in the world of King Arthur, complete with knights and anachronistic weapons and modes of travel.  Alas, he has the key to the cure, so Eden Sinclair certainly has her work cut out for her.  

Too bad Snake Pliskin is not her back up. 

Okay, on a negative, DOOMSDAY is woefully predictable, run-of-the-mill, and disposably ordinary as far as its story goes.  This is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror flick on autopilot that certainly does not reflect Marhsall’s revered skills with his last two films.  As stated, it’s a conglomeration of ideas and concepts from dozens of other films that have graced us before; so much of DOOMSDAY feels like its simply going through the motions.  Character development certainly also takes a bag seat here, and the motivations of certain characters seems fuzzy and ill defined; Bob Hoskins cop character is murkily established and I was never really quite sure how he fit into the proceedings.  At least the politicians are satisfyingly presented as back stabbing antagonists.  As for McDowell...his main baddie does not occupy the screen enough to make a memorable impression.

Yet, it sure was hard not to be taken in by DOOMSDAY’s pure, unadulterated “outrageousness” and gratuitous extremes.  As an odyssey into deplorable, exploitation-genre waters, DOOMSDAY is really infectiously silly and entertaining, in sick and twisted ways.  The film is loud, crude, and asininely violent with its on-screen atrocities. Marshall throws in everything but the kitchen sink: we see a man burned alive and then eaten; a woman gang member dismembered in a grizzly manner; people are driven over and squashed and shot into what seems like dozens of pieces; bodies explode and are impaled in numerous disgusting ways, and…hell…Marhsall even throws in a bunny that’s reduced to Hamburger Helper via armor piercing rounds.  The film’s is markedly gratuitous, but it's kind of delightfully horrific: Marshall’s tongue is so entrenched in his check is surely must have come close to puncturing it.  And…yeah…the final chase sequence has George Miller’s esoteric fingertips all over it…but Marshall does a slick and professional job using much of the same old school kinetic stunt tricks that helps elevate it above redundancy. 

And then there is Rhona Mitra, perhaps best known for her work on TV’s BOSTON LEGAL, who more than convincingly plays a detached, icy demeanored and ass-kicking - but effeminized - Snake Pliskin (she sure looks fetching in her form fitting black spandex and voluptuous – but chiseled – body).  Part of the pleasure of seeing this regurgitated genre film is that it’s done with a female anti-hero, which is refreshing.  Mitra is very long on looks and very, very low on personality, and her delivery is stoic, unemotional, and flavorless…but I think that’s the proper effect:  Mel Gibson’s Mad Max and Russell’s Snake Plisken were equally and endearingly monosyllabic…so Mitra should not be discredited here for her choices.  Certainly, she is a poor-man’s (or woman’s) Ripley or Sarah Connor, but there’s no denying that Mitra’s Eden Sinclair deserves very worthy comparisons in her ability to use intense brute force and skillful dexterity to dispatch her enemies.  

DOOMSDAY will either be loved or hated by some.  I fall right there in the middle somewhere:  I fully acknowledge that this film’s a hatchet job of better post-apocalyptic films, not to mention that the story and characters genuinely underwhelm.  However, there should be no denying the persistent vision here from Marshall to craft a stunningly violent and cruel – but affectionate and sincere - tribute to grindhouse cinema.  As a good ol’ fashioned dystopian splatter-infested action picture done with style and remarkable filmmaking economy (this is a cheap film that does not look cheap), then DOOMSDAY will definitely appease.  

Much to Neil Marshall’s promise, this film was “so outrageous” that I laughed throughout its running time at and with it.   

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