DVD Review: Doomsday
Doomsday is a lot of things. It’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movie. It’s a “virus outbreak” movie à la 28 Days Later or, I guess, Outbreak. It’s a zombie movie. It’s a medieval adventure movie. But mostly, Doomsday is totally awesome. Doomsday follows an improbably gorgeous British special forces operative sent into near-future Scotland years after that country was walled off due to a viral outbreak. It seems the virus, believed to have been wiped out when Scotland was sealed off and everyone on the island died off (or so they thought!), has resurfaced in London. So it’s up to Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) to lead a team of British commandos into Scotland, now a lawless no man’s land populated by cannibals, to return with a live human, who will hopefully provide the key to finding a cure to the virus.
Your enjoyment of Doomsday relies entirely on what you think of the above plot description. If it sounds stupid to you, then yeah, it is. If it sounds like fun, buckle up and enjoy, because Doomsday is one of the most fun B-movies to come along in years.
Doomsday is the third movie from writer-director Neil Marshall, a British filmmaker who wears his love for cult genre movies on his sleeve. His first movie, Dog Soldiers, was a low-budget (even by British standards) action-horror movie about a group of soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish highlands who stumble across a pack of werewolves. It’s a fun, gory little flick that borrows liberally – and knowingly – from genre classics like Aliens and Assault on Precinct 13. Marshall followed that up with 2005’s The Descent, one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years, about a group of women on a caving expedition who stumble across a pack of flesh-eating mutants. The Descent is a quantum leap forward from Dog Soldiers, ditching the earlier movie’s sly humour and self-awareness for an oppressive atmosphere and straight-ahead chills. It’s a genuinely brilliant horror movie that I recommend to anyone – particularly women – even those who normally aren’t into scary movies.
But with Doomsday, Marshall takes the slicker, bigger-budget feel of The Descent and fuses it with his knack for riffing on the movies that inspired him. The big influences on Doomsday – and Marshall admits it freely on the commentary on the director’s cut and on the featurettes – are the Mad Max sequel The Road Warrior, Walter Hill’s cult 1979 gang movie The Warriors and John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York. The latter happens to be one of my all-time favourite movies, so I made Escape From New York the first half of a double bill with Doomsday when I sat down to review it. Marshall borrows so lovingly from that film (not unlike Quentin Tarantino does in his movies), he even uses the same font for the opening credits, as well as a “London, 2035: NOW” title card that evokes Escape From New York’s famous “1997: NOW.” (The gangs of mohawked cannibals and their viciously crude weapons, as well as the entire climactic car chase across a dead plain, borrows just as liberally from The Road Warrior.)
Evoking awesome older movies is all well and good, but if the actual movie under discussion doesn’t hold up, then it’s all for nothing. Luckily Doomsday doesn’t disappoint. It’s an absolute blast from start to finish, from it’s insanely over-the-top violence (we don’t just take it on faith that the roving bands of maniacs are cannibals; Marshall shows them cook and eat one of Sinclair’s team members in shocking detail). Marshall not only gets why movies like Escape From New York and The Warriors and The Road Warrior and 28 Days Later are “cool” on a superficial level; any hack can dress up extras in tattered leather and football shoulder-pads, or set up a gladiator fight between the hero and a giant, menacing brute. He gets what makes them so enjoyable on a deeper level, and he’s clearly having a ton of fun riffing on not only post-apocalyptic action flicks, but in the later portion of the film when Sinclair tracks down Kane, the rogue scientist believed to be sitting on the cure (Malcolm McDowell, picking the scenery out of his teeth), Doomsday becomes a medieval adventure movie. It seems Kane has set himself up as the head of his own little kingdom in a Middle Ages theme restaurant built into a real Scottish castle, surrounding himself with knights and archers. This allows Marshall to have his heroine swordfight her way through legions of armoured soldiers right before his Mad Max car chase at the climax, which is also pretty spectacular. A genre mash-up this ambitious could easily have been a total mess, but Marshall pulls it off and then some.
Doomsday though, is no Escape From New York. As fun as it is, Mitra lacks Kurt Russell’s dry wit as the iconic Snake Plissken (though Marshall does give her one eye for good measure). But saying she’s not as good as one of the greatest movie antiheroes of all time isn’t really that much of a knock; Mitra’s performance is a bit too grim and humourless, and if she allowed herself to have a bit more fun, it really could have elevated what’s already an insanely fun B-movie to a higher level. And of course, if everything I’ve described just sounds stupid to you, well, that’s probably what you’ll think of the movie – Doomsday is the kind of genre movie that isn’t trying to be any more than it is, and the downside to that is if you’re not on board for that, then I suspect there’s not much here for you. But if a hot chick fighting cannibals and knights in post-apocalyptic Scotland sounds like fun to you, Doomsday is an absolute riot.
The Doomsday theatrical-cut DVD (which is the version I was sent to review, but I bought the unrated director’s cut, just because I dig the movie that much) has a nice little array of features, the only thing to miss the cut from the unrated version being commentary from writer-director Neil Marshall. There’s a cool making-of featurette called ‘Anatomy on the Brink,’ which covers the cast and crew and various aspects of production. The whole thing runs about 20 minutes, and gives enough detail to remain interesting, but is short enough to not drag. Everyone involved with the movie seems to be having a blast, which comes across in the final product, and Marshall and the crew mention movies like Escape From New York, Mad Max and The Warriors enough to convey how much of a love letter to those genre classics Doomsday really is. Also included are shorter featurettes on the visual effects, from the CGI to the makeup effects used in the movie’s many gory action sequences (exploding bodies/heads, etc.), as well as a segment on the movie’s weapons, the awesomely high-tech, and brutally low-tech alike. On the surface it’s all pretty basic DVD-extra stuff, but it all gets across how much effort went into the movie, as well as the level of care and detail absent from a lot of bigger movies. Overall it’s a solid DVD package for a great little action flick.
Labels: DVD review, horror movies, John Carpenter, zombies