(Note: This film was not screened for press)
After creating “Dog Soldiers” and the mesmerizing horror bonanza “The Descent,” writer/director Neil Marshall has built up quite an impressive reservoir of good faith with both fans and critics. He’s a smart filmmaker; a fresh talent working the levers on genres that need every ounce of intelligence they can possibly vacuum up. However, “Doomsday” is a misfire for Marshall; a vivid production giving him a plump budget to pursue his deepest widescreen dreams, yet he loses control of this violent free-for-all immediately after takeoff.
When the Reaper virus rears its ugly head in 2008, it threatens to wipe out Scotland, forcing government officials to do the unthinkable: wall off the country to isolate the infected. 25 years later, the virus has returned, and the secret of a potential cure is locked away in the quarantined country now populated with the tattooed and cannibalistic dregs of humanity. Wasting no time, the cops (led by Bob Hoskins) look to Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) and her band of specialists to penetrate a makeshift city and recover a cure from gang leader Kane (Malcolm McDowell) before the Reaper has a second chance to wipe the population off the planet.
If the plot sounds like a job for Snake Plissken, you’re not far off. Apparently Marshall was munching on a serious dosage of “Escape of New York” pills when manufacturing “Doomsday,” resulting in not only a comatose actioner, but a derivative one as well.
Frankly, the entire first act is devoted to the sights and sounds of John Carpenter; Marshall unapologetically steals every cue he can to make the picture resemble a creation from 1981, even employing composer Tyler Bates to replicate legendary synth beats and electro-stings. It’s not passive idolatry as much as it’s exasperating thievery. Robert Rodriguez had far more interesting fun with Carpenter-love in last year’s “Planet Terror,” but Marshall simply replicates his favorite scenes from “Escape,” only now the action is blurred by trendy edit-happy action formations and the gore is unrelentingly hostile instead of amusing.
Cracks in the foundation show up immediately in “Doomsday,” particularly in the casting of Mitra as the resident badass, Eden Sinclair. Mitra is impossibly beautiful, but she’s also impossibly bland: a personality-free anti-hero who’s left hanging by Marshall’s remote screenplay, which doesn’t have time or patience to develop any character. It leaves the picture a goulash of caloric emptiness, with Marshall preferring a sensorial assault over any form of dramatic interaction. He’s making a dumb 80’s action sideshow, yet in his quest for excess, he’s lost any potential, and quite critical, focal points along the way.
Let’s face it: Eden Sinclair is no Snake Plissken, even when Marshall bestows his heroine with an eye-patch in early scenes, along with a constant influx of one-liners, albeit withered retorts. Marshall pushes hard, but it just doesn’t feel as natural as he’s hoping.
Because “Doomsday” appears to come from the place in Marshall’s brain that encourages mediocrity, the picture somehow moves from “Escape from New York” to “Lord of the Rings” in the second half, where Sinclair tracks Kane to a touristy Scottish medieval castle, where he lords over his horsemen and gladiators with an iron fist. The tonal change isn’t out of the blue since, by this point, Marshall’s exhausting ADD has been firmly established. However, that doesn’t excuse how goofy the movie becomes in this knights-and-arrows section of the film, amplifying the disconnect between what Marshall thinks is a bloody good show and what nonsense is actually happening onscreen.
For the last two reels of “Doomsday,” the mood switches yet again, and the finale is a straight-up “Mad Max” pinch, only here the action is scored to a Frankie Goes to Hollywood tune (no, I’m not kidding) and the car gymnastics feel more like a cruddy theme park stunt show than an exhilarating, gleefully ludicrous pyrotechnic orchestration. Here, “Doomsday” falls completely apart, lost in a poisonous cloud of indulgence and bewilderment.
“Doomsday” is a mess of lousy filmmaking and unrelenting artistic bankruptcy, smashed together to form an ear-splitting, overcooked, awfully irritating shell of an experience. Whatever bloody-knuckle merriment Marshall was intending with this tribute to the cinema speeds of the 80s has been lost in the headache-inducing translation.