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United Kingdom, 2008
Directed By: Neil Marshall
Written By: Neil Marshall
Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell
Running Time: 105 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
This review was originally published March 15th, 2008.
I’ll cut straight to the chase here: Doomsday is a movie for thirteen-year-old boys. Specifically, thirteen-year-old boys with strong stomachs who know how to sneak into R-rated movies. If this is you (either in fact or in your mind), you’ll probably want to seeDoomsday. If not, you’ve been warned: stay far, far away. Neil Marshall’s latest exploitation picture certainly appears to have serious sci-fi pretensions at moments, but in the end, this is just a bad movie lover’s dream come true. Marshall effortlessly moves from genre to genre—cop thriller, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, medieval swashbuckler, etc.—and pulls it all off, tossing in massive amounts of bloody, chaotic violence the whole way.
You’re still reading? I was certain the preceding paragraph would make you either rush off to see Doomsday or start looking for another film immediately. Well, since you’re still here, I guess I’ll proceed with the obligatory plot summary: Sometime around present day, a deadly epidemic known as the “Reaper Virus” appeared in Scotland. There was no cure, and no hope of survival for anyone who caught it—and it was spreading fast. In desperation, the U.K. government quarantined the entire country, building a 30-foot wall between it and England, and barricading it from the ocean. Then they simply turned their back on it, leaving it to descend into anarchy. Flash forward to 2035, and all seems well—until the Virus reappears in London. The epidemic is different from the last—closer to those in power, and spreading faster. Desperate once more, the government recruits skilled tactics expert Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) to lead a crew of men into Glasgow, in hopes of finding a cure.
If that seems like a lot of exposition, it probably is, but it’s done in the first twenty minutes of the film—mainly through voiceover narration, that timeless hallmark of bad movies. The rest of the film concerns itself with Eden’s mission, with all the requisite butt-kicking. Marshall, who’s previously been known primarily for straight-up horror flicks like The Descent(in addition to horror-comedies like Dog Soldiers), is essentially channeling John Carpenter here, with all that that implies (there’s a hefty does of Mad Max as well—as if you hadn’t figured that out by now). Eden battles everything from gangs of street punks to armor-clad knights, with loads of well-done, but shamelessly exploitative, graphic violence (involving cannibalism, graphic beheadings, and buckets of that controversial red stuff).
Those who saw the trailer might assume that this is (at least partially) a rip-off of 28 Days Later, but the similarities are mainly superficial (the basic “dangerous virus at large in the U.K.” premise). Doomsday essentially lacks the horror and social commentary that are the hallmark of (good) zombie films, but in a sense, its conflict is much more immediate. The hordes of humans trying to harm our heroes are not diseased out of their minds; they’re conscious, sentient beings who have been unjustly cut off from the world and are murderously angry about it. They’re not subhuman, and they’re not unjustified—they’re just angry, powerful, and frightening. This gives the proceedings a balance many action films lack—even if the villains are, ultimately, hateable. “Thought-provoking” is a strong word, but Doomsday hits slightly higher on the target than the “mind-numbingly stupid” level it aims for.