Doomsday Predictably Loud, Gory, Gruesome

Max is Mad at the similarity to The Road Warrior climax

Reviewed By Henry B. Rosenbush
Edited and updated 3.18.2010

Doomsday is not a bad movie but predictably most films that open cold, that is without advanced screenings for critics, are generally looking for the quick payoff before reviews and word of mouth sinks the production. Expect a reasonably good shelf life for fans on end of the world cinema.

Although not abysmal, it is unlikely to attract many converts either; it is loud, gruesome and dark with enough gore to satiate the audience that craves it and the sight of Rhona Mitra in tight spandex will propel it to reasonable box-office. Expect a quick payoff and a less doomed life in ancillary markets and on cable television.

Once critics got a view negative reviews began spreading faster than the Reaper Virusthat spreads from Glasgow and begins rapidly decimating Scotland. A brief voiceover narration by Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell), who is left behind in Glasgow, establishes that the disease is so pervasive, England decides to wall off Scotland and abandon the entire populace to death. Young Eden Sinclair (Mitra), with an eye wound, is saved as her mother gets her aboard a helicopter when a soldier gives up his seat. Naturally, she will grow up one bad-assed military major with a missing right eye which was replaced with a surveillance device allowing her to keep an eye out for danger.

Whether intended, or not, as social metaphor for the current construction of the wall between the United States and Mexico the walling off Scotland is deemed the only suitable way from containing the infection which presumably doesn’t affect the West or countries outside Europe; the film never explains. England becomes ostracized from other nations and becomes a militaristic police state free from the virus until 2033; 25 years after the original outbreak when corpses are found in the city and the leaders realize the virus has returned to England despite the earlier efforts to contain it.

The plot is far from pedantic; it incorporates most apocalyptical sagas ever committed to celluloid as far back as No Blade of Grass (1970) and I may be the only critic to reference that film but I’ll later bring its relevance. Most reviewers condemned Marshall for borrowing liberally from Escape From New York, I Am Legend, the Max Mad Trilogy (notably the second and third installments), Resident Evil Franchise and 28 Days Later. There are even scenes that echo Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Robin Hood films and even the long forgotten 1950 viral thriller from Elia Kazan Panic in the City with criminal Jack Palance hunted by health inspector Richard Widmark before he can infect New Orleans with bubonic plague.

With a nod today’s paranoia about surveillance it is revealed that satellites in space have spied on Scotland and have known for three years there were survivors in the hot zone. At least as a plot device it explains why the later journey into Scotland is necessary.

Whether homage to the other films or blatant rip-offs British director Neil Marshall’s third film, after the werewolves versus British soldiers in the Scottish highlands, Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005), with female spelunkers battling underground cannibalistic foes, delivers plenty of action drenched in blood. The violence is grisly and mean-spirited; a rabbit is blown to bit to illustrate the effectiveness and accuracy of an automatic defense system against unauthorized attempts to enter England and a man is barbequed alive before being torn to bits and eaten by the cannibalistic Scots. There are decapitations, dismemberments and plenty of gunplay resulting in untold numbers of deaths, even a cow gets run over by a military vehicle. If anything, Marshall’s first three features are visceral in their conception even if the story is less compelling.

Rhona Mitra deserves better starring roles

After a viral outbreak comes to England Major Sinclair and a team enter the forbidden world abandoned 33 years earlier in 2008 and almost immediately come under attack. Most of the team are quickly dispatched leaving three survivors and Eden captured, hung from a ceiling and manhandled and physically abused by the mohawked leader of the post-apocalyptic denizens of Glasgow Sol (the over-the-top Craig Conway). After meeting a survivor also imprisoned named Cally (MyAnna Buring), who is Sol’s sister and the possible carrier of the cure, Sinclair escapes into the countryside with two other survivors of the team. At the one hour mark we are finally freed from the dark urban decay for mountains and valleys that evoke the world outside the cities. It is a splendid moment of serenity negated by more violence at the hands of Kane.

As typical of movie plot devices Sol and Cally are offsprings of Kane who now lives in a castle in a feudalistic society complete with ther black knight archetype and a gladiatorial ring where the weaponless Eden Sinclair battles the fully armored knight in a battle to the death. No problem guessing who wins that battle.

Mitra acquits herself well in the heroine role and carries the film. Having starred in the first two seasons of Boston Legal and in Sweet Home Alabama, Mitra has already shown superb skills in dramatic and comedic situations as in Robert Harmon’s 2004 film, and Highwaymen, co-starring Jim Caviezel, where she went from frightened victim to tough survivor. “Highwaymen” is a good guilty pleasure film, mostly enjoyable on a rainy night, and the sight
dressed in a red dress backing across asphalt to avoid the villian’s cat and mouse game is a highlight. Few may remember Mitra in an uncredited role as the next door neighbor rape victim of the “Hollow Man.”

She deserves better starring roles with her unique face and mysterious demeanor. Although portrayed slender and buff she handles the fight scenes well; that trait also did not hurt either Sigourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton in their brave femme roles in, respectively, Alien (1979) and Terminator II: Judgment Day (1991).

McDowell is cast looking tired and grizzled with some juicy madman dialogue (“They started this fire, they can burn in it.”) while other cast members are purely perfunctory as cannon fodder, so to speak. Bob Hoskins has little to do as Sinclair’s boss in what amounts to an extended cameo. Only David O’Hara as Canaris, a power-hungry second command to the Prime Minister adds depth to his duplicitous character.

At film’s climax we are treated to a highway chase not unlike The Road Warrior with the nadir reached when Sol jumps into a speeding Bentley without survivors to try and choke his sister! With a scene already shown in the trailer, a car-through-a-bus crash assures us Sol will not return for a sequel. The dénouement is unsurprising adding an unexpected moment of deus ex machina. Whether the final corker leads to a sequel won’t be decided by the first weekend take of $4.9 million.

While not for all tastes, Doomsday gorehounds will enjoy the endless parade of decapitations, dismemberments and bloodletting. While some critics have rightfully noted its similar arc with other recent films (Legend, Resident Evil, 28…Later) it should be noted the infected characters are shown to less degree than the aforementioned zombie-style plots.

Doomsday reminds of the rarely seen No Blade of Grass, a pollution-themed seventies end-of-the-world grind house feature, that shocked me as a teenager in its unrelenting nastiness towards its characters, especially women, who are systemically killing one another or murdered in ghastly fashion. A gang-rape of a mother and her virgin daughter was so savage it made the mother’s shotgun-emasculation revenge on the lead rapist a vindication and one that received audience applause.

Tech credits are pro within this genre with a nice mixture of live action mayhem and computerized effects for this economical $30 million action film.

A Rogue Pictures release presented with Intrepid Pictures of a Crystal Sky Pictures production, in association with Scion Films. Produced by Steven Paul and Benedict Carver; Executive producers, Peter McAleese, Trevor Macy, Marc D. Evans, Jeff Abberley and Julia Blackman. Directed and written by Neil Marshall. Camera (color), Sam McCurdy; editor, Andrew MacRitchie; music, Tyler Bates; production designer, Simon Bowles; supervising art director, Steve Carter; art directors, Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson, John Trafford, David Doran; set decorator, Mark Auret; costume designer, John Norster; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Derek Mansvelt; sound designer, Matthew Collinge; visual effects supervisor, Hal Couzens; visual effects, Double Negative, the Senate Visual Effects; special makeup effects designer, Paul Hyett; stunt coordinator, Cordell McQueen; assistant directors, Jack Ravenscroft, Dale Butler; casting, Jeremy Zimmermann.

Reviewed at the Hollwood 16, Tuscaloosa. AL March 17, 2008. MPAA Rating: R (Strong Bloody Violence, Language and Some Sexual Content/Nudity). Running time: 1:49

Eden Sinclair – Rhona Mitra
Bill Nelson – Bob Hoskins
Norton – Adrian Lester
John Hatcher – Alexander Siddig
Canaris – David O’Hara
Kane – Malcolm McDowell
Sol – Craig Conway
Cally – MyAnna Buring