"Doomsday" is a patchy, messy attempt at killing time

Neil Marshall used to be a lot of fun.

Dog Soldiers, his first feature, was a pulpy, drunken countryside romp about a squad of British soldiers cornered in a house by a pack of werewolves. The Descent, where ending up trapped in an unknown cave system was the least of the problems a group of friends encountered, was a claustrophobic nightmare.

Then Marshall got some attention, and ten times the budget, and went off the rails with Doomsday.

A virus decimates Scotland, turning people into rabid zombies. Britain builds a wall around it — yes, even at sea — so that the infected can’t escape, then institute a no-fly zone. Don’t ask me why — maybe it’s so planes won’t catch the virus. I suppose birds obey it too, so the disease never spreads to the uninfected areas. A little girl escapes, forced to leave her mom behind, and grows to be a boring, state-employed female Snake Plissken. Even down to the missing eye, which is some kind of remote camera she feels free rolling around on the floor in infected areas then sticking right back into her socket, because fuck fiber optics.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the best I can say about it is that it features strong women. Otherwise, it’s an absolute dog’s breakfast. If you used it for a continuity error drinking game, you’d need medical help. It can’t do anything interesting with any of its three settings — police-state England, road warrior Glasgow, medieval theme park somewhere-or-other — so it dashes from one to the next and back. Marshall can’t decide where the camera should go or what a scene should be, so close-quarters combat changes to a wide field after a cut. A soldier sacrifices himself to wire a gate to close behind his friends, just so horse-riding pursuers can’t chase after a speeding Bentley. Might as well, I suppose, seeing how later a school bus catches up with it.

Marshall got completely lost on the scale. His perfunctory try at gore lacks the playfulness of Dog Soldiers, so he just photographs severed heads and limbs. The violence lacks the bone-crunching, psyche-damaging impact of The Descent, try as he might to drive it home.

Some directors just can’t handle money.

Doomsday would have been entertaining in the late 80s. Maybe even early 90s, as a throwback to the previous decade’s silliness, the way it signaled toughness cribbing from hair metal with lots of mascara. In a world where we now have Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s just criminally incompetent.

There’s an amusing inversion of roles going on here. It usually takes a young up-and-comer to grab someone else’s vision and update it for a new decade. Marshall didn’t update Escape from New York or Mad Max here, he just aped them, and then Grandpa George Miller popped in to show them kids how it’s done.

It could have worked, if it had fully embraced its Escape from Glasgow’s Thunderdome vibe, taken itself even less seriously, focused on the derangement instead of the anachronistic concept. If it hadn’t wasted time with the tragic backstory and the gimmicks. If it had picked one of the three worlds it wants to portray instead of trying to give you a cinematic universe’s model U.N.

There might be a fun movie in there, somewhere under all the crud, but the one he finished comes across as nothing but amateur hour parody.

Originally published at filmsnark.tumblr.com.

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