Sunday, March 16, 2008

REVIEW: Doomsday (2007)

Add some simulated print-damage and an awkward reel-shifts and Neil Marshall's "Doomsday" could easily be one-half of a hypothetical sequel to "Grindhouse." If you regard that, correctly, as high praise, get yourself to a theater with all deliberate speed and enjoy the crap out of a genuine-article brawny B-movie brawler. If you regard that as anything other than high praise... I dunno what to tell ya, at this point.

Marshall landed himself instantly on the film-geek "watch-list" in 2002 with the winning two-hit combo of A.) making an ultra-violent action/horror film about special forces soldiers fighting werewolves, "Dog Soldiers," and B.) making a DAMN good little movie out of it. Making smarter, slicker, darker and meaner than average films in time-tested B-movie formulas appears to be his forte, as he followed that up with "The Descent," easily the best "trapped underground with creatures" movie in a long time. "Doomsday" is in a similar vein, applying a fresh coat of paint and some fresh logic to the Post-Apocalypse action genre.

After a mysterious "Reaper Virus" infects Scotland, British authorities wall-off the entire country in an attempt to starve the infected (and thus the disease) out of existance. In 2035, the virus re-emerges in England-proper; which leads to a startling revelation: Apparently, there ARE small communities of survivors still alive in Scotland, suggesting the presence of a cure. To investigate the matter, the government drafts a deadly, tough-talking soldier (Rhona Mitra) to lead a team over the wall. You can guess that it doesn't go well. In fact, among the "survivors" to be encountered are an army of cannibalistic neo-tribal punks... and that's just for starters.

For what it's worth, the film is so brazen and unashamed of it's place as "Escape From New York" meets "Road Warrior" that when a pair of supporting characters turn up named Carpenter and Miller it rates among the more subtle homages and allusions to be found. In case your wondering, Mitra's lipstick-butch heroine IS in fact a Plissken-esque cyclops... though she only sports the eyepatch when her glass eye is doing double-duty as a remote-controlled camera (bad-ass!) and you likely don't need me to tell you that the nasty punk villians have a inexplicably well-fueled fleet of gruesomely-decorated death cars at their disposal. Let it be said, though, that for all the borrowed-parts the film takes off in it's 2nd act with the introduction of Malcom McDowell as an ersatz Colonel Kurtz who's post-plague feifdom manifests itself in a delightfully original way.

As before, Marshal distinguishes what amounts to genre work by keeping things smart, quick and not cheaping out where it counts: There's a copious body count and a mounting series of creative action setpieces, and his camera seems to actively seek out the choicest bits of hacking, slashing and exploding at each turn. Mitra does quite a bit of the heavy-lifting, ably selling herself as a no-bullshit action chick (next up: female lead in the "Underworld" prequel) worth keeping an eye on.

Bottom line: You're unlikely to find a better hard-action film in theatres right now.