Doomsday (2008)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/01/08 17:30:32

"It's Mad to the Max!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Some of my colleagues have criticized Neil Marshall for going overboard in its nostalgic aping of fanboy-friendly genre elements - and some of them have applauded him for the very same reason. The writer/director, who achieved cult status with his inventive horror flicks “Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent,” approaches his third film, “Doomsday,” with the fervor of a man who thinks he’ll never get to make a fourth. Marshall tosses everything into this picture, resulting in a mulligan stew of genre elements - a mix tape of his favorite lowbrow 80s VHS moments, if you will. The sheer random ridiculousness of it all is cause for either alarm or celebration, depending on your point of view.

I’m unquestionably in the “cause for celebration” corner. Marshall’s recreations are playful and highly rewarding to genre fans - he’s so spot-on that he could have titled it “Grindhouse 2” - but, like Rodriguez and Tarantino’s tributes to cinema trash, “Doomsday” works because the tributes are the icing, not the cake. This is entertainment that holds up completely on its own, without the added silliness of the “Escape from New York” or “Mad Max” callbacks. It’s a furious adventure, balls-out in its over-the-top nature, a guaranteed good time at the multiplex.

An introduction that borrows both the title font and low-tech computer graphics of a certain Snake Plissken flick informs us that after a deadly virus breaks out in the UK, the government erects a massive wall around Scotland, sealing off the virus and leaving the survivors to die. Flash forward a few decades. Overpopulation, a dying economy, and general dystopian gloom have left Britain in shambles, and it looks like the virus has returned, too. Super-soldier Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) and a team of fellow badasses are assigned to reenter Scotland - the “Hot Zone” - and find a scientist who is rumored to have found a cure.

One of Marshall’s strongest points as a master of horror is his knack for surprise, both in the big picture (the plot goes places you’d never guess) and in the moment (no current filmmaker is better at shocking you with an unexpected jolt). As such, any further plot recap would be a disservice; “Doomsday” is such a marvel of oddball story detours that even the twists you can predict still feel fresh and enjoyable. It can be said that of course Sinclair will encounter survivors within the Hot Zone (among them a scenery-chewing Malcolm McDowell and a scene-stealing Craig Conway), and of course they will not be happy, and of course there will be fighting and chases and explosions and beheadings and cannibalism. You know, the usual.

Marshall serves all of this up with terrific energy, so much so that even when the movie stumbles with an ill-timed idea or nugget of clunky acting, we want to cheer for more. The film is a collection of brilliant set pieces: the first attack, the gladiator fight, the femme fatale fight, the train getaway, the reveal of Kane’s lair, the massive car chase, the punk-gang rally inventively scored to a perfectly chosen 80s pop song. Even the corners are cluttered with endless insanity (the gimp!), leaving us overwhelmed. When the dust settles, we might reflect on how it didn’t quite add up, or how you could drive one of those futuristic tanks through most of the plot holes, or how some of the references were a little too much. But when the film’s unspooling and we’re watching Rhona Mitra drive a sports car through an exploding bus, we find ourselves in movie geek heaven.

All of this might not make “Doomsday” Marshall’s best film, but it does make it his most fun. The filmmaker almost dares you to talk back to the screen, to laugh and cheer and whoop it up with every explosion, gunshot, and blood spurt. Marshall takes his project seriously enough for it to be effective as a grisly, grimy, gritty sci-fi splatterfest, but he also knows when to laugh along with us.

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