There is a slight sense of love for post-apocalyptic movie classics in Neil Marshall’s latest film, Doomsday, but it is a fascination it does not share with the audience. We know all the influences, from the 28 Days Later movies to the Mad Max pictures, but what it lacks is a real creative spark of its own. In fact, I am almost tempted just to make a checklist of all the steals this film makes from other far superior movies.
What happened here after Neil Marshall’s revival of classical horror in The Descent? That movie also had a myriad of references to movies from the golden age of horror that is the 1970s but took great care to polish its time-tested elements to a frightening gloss. This movie abandons any buildup of suspense or ideas and just goes for mindless chaos.
The launching premise of yet another lethal, viral outbreak in Britain in 2008 seems to so shamelessly rip off from the premise of the 28 Days Later movies (only this time it is Scotland). There is an intriguing twist that comes when the government decides to barricade the place and abandon any potential survivors inside. But the whole element of a mother trying to get her son to escape the outbreak is getting a little tired by now.
Fast forward to 2035 when Big Brother sees that the outbreak is spreading to London and there are still survivors left behind the barricades; the government figures that they must have discovered a cure somehow. Prime Minister John Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) and his right-hand man Michael Canaris (John O’Hara) thus tap on the Chief of Department Security, Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins), to send in their most elitist soldier. That turns out to be Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), who acts and struts around like a British version of Alice from Resident Evil (though, come to think of it, Mitra probably could have made a better Alice than Milla Jovovich was in those horrible movies).
Anyway, she is sent in to find a renowned doctor, Kane (Malcolm McDowell), in an attempt to retrieve the cure. She goes behind the barricade to find that all of the citizens have descended into complete disarray and become — what else? Punk rockers out of Mad Max to complete the movie-filching trifecta (and there are many other smaller rip-offs besides the three cornerstones I have already mentioned). I am amazed that people in this post-apocalyptic world could scrape together so much hair gel to hold their spiked hair everyday.
To be sure, there are a few scenes when writer/director Neil Marshall is able to hold the audience like a vice. Some of the action scenes are well-staged and move along at a quicker zip than the leaden, routine action scenes in the Resident Evil movies. Another extended sequence where a captured soldier is literally burned and cooked alive and then devoured by the hordes of punk rockers is inevitably quite gruesome and disturbing but points to a daring recklessness to show the extent of the literal and figurative decay of human civilization. But, after that first horrific encounter, a sinking feeling grows that Marshall is not really thinking to create a cohesive story and explore the ideas behind his initially ambitious premise.
I can almost imagine Marshall at his drawing board thinking he wanted to find excuses to fulfill his boyish dreams of directing bloodthirsty fights without a single sharp or fiery weapon unexplored and Mitra is certainly game for all the physical stunts she is asked to do. But one wishes that she was at least a little more than mere fodder for a repetitive series of whippings, escapes, and gladiator fights throughout the entire film. Then there is a final revelation that is almost as ludicrous and laughable as the one in The Village.
Maybe the biggest problem with the film is not so much that it is derivative or unoriginal but that it finds the wrong works to mash together. A movie that starts out with a premise as ambitious as the 28 Days Later movies (which was itself influenced by Tim Matheson’s famous book, I Am Legend) should not contain a heroine almost as undeveloped as the one in Resident Evil and end like a glorified B-level road action movie (though the Mad Max films deservedly have a cult following because they were the first of their kind). And if you are going to show your love for the movies you pay homage to, you should see if their elements fit together rather than cancel each other out.
Bottom line: Mediocre at best.