December 8, 2016

Doomsday (2008)

27 years after Scotland was sealed off from the world due to an uncontrollable outbreak of a deadly virus, that same virus appears in London. As satellite photography appears to indicate that people are still alive north of the border, a military mission is dispatched into Glasgow to investigate the survivors and potentially find a cure. Once in the city they discover a wild, broken-down society of punks, violent murderers and cannibals.

Or business as usual on a Glasgow Saturday night, as the joke probably goes. There's definitely a sly sort of ribbing going on in Doomsday, the second of three Neil Marshall films about people venturing into Scotland and getting violently massacred. Marshall himself is English, but here as well as in Dog Soldiers and Centurion he gets an extraordinary amount of value from sending English characters north of the border to their doom. You would think the Scots would get offended: instead funding body Scottish Screen actually invested funds in Doomsday's production. It's possibly all of those scenes of English people getting beaten by angry Scots.

This is an unashamed B-movie, aiming less at mainstream success and more at a dedicated cult audience, one that will enjoy the film's enthusiastic riffs on George Miller and John Carpenter. It is by no means Neil Marshall's best film - that remains The Descent - but it is a loud, energetic, and consistently entertaining romp through an ultra-violent post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Rhona Mitra plays Major Eden Sinclair, a hardened and cynical member of England's Department of Domestic Security, who commands the mission beyond the armed 30-foot high steel wall and into Scotland. Mitra does an exceptional job. She's physically capable and plays very well with Sinclair's embittered and bleak world view. I have never understood why her career has not been more successful than it has. She generally delivers good performances, is physically attractive, and has demonstrated herself to be an effective action star. To an extent I think Kate Beckinsale has stolen the career that Mitra deserves: indeed when Beckinsale temporarily quit the Underworld movie franchise it was Mitra that replaced her. To Neil Marshall's credit he allows Sinclair to stand on her own merits as an action heroine without feeling the need to sexualise her; something that wasn't afforded to the likes of Beckinsale or Milla Jovovich.

Sinclair's handler is capably played by the late Bob Hoskins. To be honest it's a minor role for Hoskins, but like a true professional he commits to it and makes his scenes all the more enjoyable for his presence. The same goes for Alexander Siddig as Britain's easily manipulated Prime Minister and David O'Hara as political puppetmaster Canaris. Sinclair's team on her mission to Scotland include a couple of constantly reliable British actors including Adrian Lester, Sean Pertwee and Chris Robson.

Sinclair's mission brings her face to face with two main antagonists. The first, Sol (Craig Conway), rules a massive gang of cannibal punks in the ruins of Glasgow. The second is his father Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who rules his own community from a highland castle where the people have reverted to medievalism. There's a palpable contrast between the two actors. Conway plays Sol with an excess of eye-rolling enthusiasm, which is honestly pretty entertaining. McDowell plays Kane with a lot more subtlety. In some scenes it's flat enough you might suspect he's taking the pay cheque and doing as little as possible for it, but in the quieter moments he creates someone rather sad and and regretful.

As a pastiche of other science fiction films, Doomsday rambles amiably all over the shop. Some scenes deliberately echo Mad Max. Others Escape From New York. The scenes of the rampaging infected in London's streets, or attacks by frenzied cannibals in Glasgow, feel an awful lot like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. It's an odd sort of film in that regard, picking and choosing riffs and melodies as it goes, and seemingly improvising its narrative structure from beginning to end. One minute Sinclair is facing down an armoured knight on horseback. The next she's in a high-speed car chase. To enjoy Doomsday you really have to just sit back and let the insanity roll over you. It's a dirty, violent, wildly fun bit of pulp entertainment.

2 comments:

  1. I suspect Rhona Mitra's problem is she looks too much like Kate Beckinsale. It wasn't until I read this review that I realised the main protagonist wasn't played by Kate Beckinsale, which is what I assumed when watching it.

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