Sunday, April 06, 2008

Doomsday (2008)

Doomsday (Neil Marshall, 2008)

In the near future, a viral outbreak would force Britain to separate from Scotland, constructing a well-guarded wall on its border to enforce an unusually cruel quarantine where an entire people are left to die. Decades later when the same virus starts threatening London, a group of courageous soldiers lead by chick-with-a-history Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) is commissioned by the government to go back to Scotland and bring back a survivor to London. Long-neglected Scotland has transformed into a world of its own, with grunge rocker-cannibals lead by mohawk-donning Sol (Craig Conway) and medieval knights lead by their eloquent lord Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell) lording over what feels like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Doomsday, Neil Marshall's third feature film, is obviously gifted with a large-enough budget to pay for all the indulgences of his unusually wild imagination. Marshall largely succeeded in creating atmosphere from scraps with his werewolf mayhem flick Dog Soldiers (1999) and his underground pseudo-feminist gore-fest The Descent (2005). In Doomsday, Marshall replaces his gift for magically pulling out cinematic dread out of a hat bought from a 99 cent store with his delusion that he can transform his fanboy knowledge of the best moments in cult filmmaking into a working and coherent film. Unfortunately, the delusion remains a delusion. Blanketed with the look and feel of a 20th century cult classic without the paramount intelligence that made those cult classics withstand aging, the film feels severely outdated. Doomsday is literally an anachronistic mishap. Although enjoyable because of its relentless display of blood and gore, it feels like an utter anomaly right from the get-go.

It's a good thing that at times, Doomsday can be hilarious. While Marshall starts off the film with an air of seriousness (with an authoritative voice narrating the details of the viral outbreak up to Scotland being enclosed with miles of steel and mines), the heavy tone is quickly buttressed by a valuable shoot-out, where the ridiculosity of big 'fro assassins and big-titted blondes in a bathtub slugging it out until they are brutally killed. From then on, Doomsday descends into an arena where big budget meets purposeful bad taste. It doesn't entirely work but at least the imaginative blending of supposedly unmixable genre elements supplies the viewer with a source for laughs and disbelief. Think of it like a cod-flavored ice cream; it isn't exactly something one would call a perfect dessert but is something the gastronomically-daring would try out of at least, curiosity.

While there is a flagrant abundance of heads being severed and limbs being smashed, at least the violence is done with cartoonic flair (something completely absent from the abysmal massacres of The Descent). The violence is done at the expense of humanizing characters, but Marshall is not a director who cares much for humanity anyway, especially with films where characterizations are mere a setups for his grisly situations. Apart from Sinclair who is propped with a backstory, the rest of Marshall's characters aren't given enough personalities to distinguish themselves from each other. It's probably best to kill them off that way, since without the baggages of natural pity, sympathy and empathy to the human characters, their honorless deaths (one gets his throat slit; another is roasted and fed to a hungry mob) become less offensive to the senses.

Doomsday is comical, undaunting, and perplexing in its illogical absurdity. It isn't punctuated with a distinct style that might make it an intriguing piece of cinema, aside from the fact that it harbors the same distaste for humanity Marshall has always inflicted his films with. It isn't one of the films that will be thought of as "so crazy, it's genius" many years from now. It is more a hodgepodge of influences than anything else. Unfortunately, Marshall is still in no position to adequately copy off from the masters. It's a delirious effort of unifying Marshall's cinephile artifacts into a bubble of gratuitous bad taste. It is still a fun ride, one I would never dare experiencing again unless I am threatened to be fed to a mob of hungry Scots.

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