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Doomsday (2008)

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 03/23/08 20:41:55

"I love the '80s."
5 stars (Awesome)

Horror fans may want to see "Doomsday" to check out the new film by Neil Marshall, director of "Dog Soldiers" and "The Descent." I did, too, but about twenty minutes into it I decided to pretend it was a long-lost mid-’80s film Marshall had dusted off and put his name on.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially for aficionados of cheesy post-apocalyptic fare. Doomsday has it all: a deadly virus, a laconic hero (in the shapely form of Rhona Mitra), a mission with a short deadline, a cadre of savages who take their sartorial cues from the Sex Pistols, and a lengthy desert auto chase. Like Dog Soldiers, similarly a stew of genres Marshall loves, Doomsday is a place for Marshall to try on various hats.

In this case, he also worships at the altar of John Carpenter (Escape from New York) and George Miller (the Mad Max films). If you’ve been craving a new Snake Plissken movie or a new Mad Max adventure, only with a Kate Beckinsale lookalike in the lead, Doomsday is what you need. The strongly Carpenter-esque synth score, occasionally interrupted by ‘80s Brit-pop (I particuarly enjoyed hearing Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” in the midst of the climactic chase), seals the deal. Some will be offended at the appropriations, but Carpenter and Miller aren’t making this sort of bash any more, and Marshall does it with verve and a clear love of the material.

I don’t know whether Rhona Mitra has a future in movies that require her to, y’know, act, but here she has the right hard-bitten vibe as Major Eden Sinclair, who as a girl escaped the Reaper Virus that consumed Scotland. Now, in 2035, Scotland is walled off and the virus has gotten a foothold in London. Eden is sent over the wall into the hot zone in search of a cure; it’s really more of a P.R. move than an honorable mission. Eden takes a few soldiers in with her, and immediately meets a mob of armed goons who were too young to be in The Road Warrior and have been overcompensating ever since. Their leader is a gnashing, mohawked psycho named Sol (Craig Conway), who looks almost placid next to his girlfriend Viper (the striking-looking stuntwoman Lee-Anne Liebenberg).

Eden’s trials don’t end with the ersatz Road Warriors; there is still Malcolm McDowell to contend with. Something unsettling is happening to McDowell’s nose as he ages, but he’s still in fine ominous voice as the embittered Dr. Kane, who turned his back on society when the wall went up and has ensconced himself in a castle along with a severe band of medievalists. (One especially amusing shot tells us Dr. Kane hasn’t bothered to remove a “Gift Shop” sign from the castle exterior.) Arrows fly, blood spurts, and we aren’t yet even into the car chase, which features, among other things, a severed head placed back onto its body in what I can only describe as a sentimental touch. In its gleeful determination to shoehorn in everything Neil Marshall has always wanted to put on film, Doomsday reminded me of Sam Raimi’s shoot-the-works cult favorite Army of Darkness. The only thing missing is Bruce Campbell, though Doomsday does have Bob Hoskins, snarling avuncularly as usual.

The line between homage and rip-off can be a thin and subtle one. We should also remember that there is nothing new under the sun, that Marshall’s masters Carpenter and Miller did their fair share of reworking earlier material, too. We only think to denounce something as derivative or outright theft if we didn’t enjoy it in the first place. But I had a fine time at Doomsday. It took me right back to the early days of VCRs, when I was a teenager and probably discovering all those grungy sci-fi-horror flicks at about the same time that Marshall was (he’s a month older than I am).

"Doomsday" is, I think, a far more fun tribute to grindhouse than "Grindhouse" was; if someone at Rogue Pictures is smart, they’ll make the DVD packaging look like an old Vestron or Wizard videocassette. Complete with misleading cover art assuring you that Rhona Mitra gets naked (she doesn’t).

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