Director of The Descent delivers new apocalypse

Neil Marshall’s previous films, Dog Soldiers and The Descent, reinvigorated British horror with atypical plots and a psychological tension complimented by stunning shock treatments and sinister atmospherics grounded in reality. With those films featuring a small central cast in a claustrophobic setting, Doomsday represents a radical detour as Marshall traverses a plot that sprawls across settings and ideas while also edging away from horror as a linear genre.

Commencing in the present day, Doomsday’s scenario sees a deadly virus contaminating the population of Scotland, thus ensuring suffering akin to that of the BBC’s classic eighties post-nuclear docudrama Threads. Desperate to contain the virus, the government effectively quarantines the whole of Scotland with the use of military barriers and no fly zones, leaving the healthy to suffer an inevitably awful fate. When the virus re-emerges in London a quarter of a century later, officials need a miracle. Security chief Bill Nelson (Bob Hoskins) constructs a team of specialists to re-enter the annexed nation to search for a cure. Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) leads a squad forced to take the brunt of the government’s prior actions.

Less conceptually based than, say, Children of Men, Doomsday’s post-apocalyptic nightmare is filled with lunatic ambition as Marshall straddles genres as if it’s his last chance to make a movie. It’s an unashamedly action centred film (admittedly with some of the pitfalls that usually dictates – some cheesy pay-off lines and blandly drawn devious politicians) that variously recalls Mad Max, 28 Days Later, Highlander, Aliens, and Escape From New York, all wrapped with the relentless, panic-inducing pacing of Assault on Precinct 13.

As such, it’s impossible to stereotype. Yet Marshall’s fans won’t be disenfranchised given the sheer brutality of the violence (bones don’t just break, they snap, crackle and pop), and the lashings of macabre humour that range from the cyberpunk leader’s signature tune being provided by Fine Young Cannibals to a cutesy bunny being blown to the great Watership Down in the sky by automated weaponry designed to obliterate afflicted Scots.

When films such as this go wrong, they do so in spectacular style (see Richard Jobson’s almost unbelievably lame The Purifiers) but Marshall strikes a welcome balance by penetrating the film’s pulsating action with enough underlying intelligence to give Doomsday’s thrilling experience an underlying credibility. For challenging character studies look elsewhere, but otherwise Doomsday resurrects the invigorating rush of old school cinema.

Photo: Jay Maidment
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