Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
March 2008

Culture shock

It may offend good cinematic taste, but 'Doomsday' is unlike anything you're likely to see

Rogue Pictures
Director: Neil Marshall
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Starring: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Adrian Lester, David O'Hara, Alexander Siddig, Craig Conway, MyAnna Buring and Malcolm McDowell
Rated R / 1 hour, 45 minutes
Opened March 14, 2008
(out of four)

It's stripped across the side of a bus in bold, plain English: "Your s*** is our bread and butter." The message - which the camera captures during a scene in which all hell has broken loose - couldn't be clearer: Neil Marshall's Doomsday has no interest in high art, finesse, good taste or even, apparently, coherent storytelling.

It is the kind of movie that would almost seem at home in Grindhouse, only without all the ironic, postmodern flourishes and nostalgia. It is a film so concerned with its base instincts and tawdry desires that it literally forgets, from time to time, that there's an overriding story to tell.

But those base instincts, those B-movie desires, give birth to an astonishingly eclectic milieu and a level of cinematic lunacy virtually unprecedented in cineplexes over the last few years. The term "flick" could never be more appropriately applied.

I recently wrote in my capsule review of The Nines: "If any movie was destined to find a cult following, it's this one."

I was wrong. I was a couple weeks early. This, in fact, is the movie that is destined to find a cult following. In fact, I would argue it's virtually impossible that it doesn't. Doomsday is a glorious guilty pleasure.

Here is a film with a blatant disregard for tact and an absolute dedication to idiosyncratic, balls-to-the-wall filmmaking. What, you might ask, is the difference between the lunacy of Doomsday and the lunacy of the awful 10,000 B.C.? The difference is that Doomsday is unabashedly entertaining - if you'll forgive the forgettable first act, it plays to its strengths and attempts nothing more than to pump as much adrenaline as possible. Mission accomplished.

There is something oddly exhilarating in the sheer chutzpah of Marshall's distorted, haphazard vision. Is it a great movie? No. But its immutable entertainment value sneaks up on you - even if it makes you feel guilty and ashamed afterwards.

The film's opening half-hour is so disheartening because it's almost exactly like that of two dozen movies I saw last year and another two dozen I'll see this year.

The subsequent hour is so encouraging because it's exactly like nothing I saw last year, and nothing I'm likely to see this year.

Deadly virus that wipes out an entire society? Yada yada yada. Insidious government regime? Yawn. Sexy heroine with a tortured past? Yeah yeah yeah. Narration by some old British guy? Ugh. Jaded-but-dependable good-guy cop played by Bob Hoskins? OK, now we're getting better. Plot set-up pitting unexpected survivors of the virus vs. those "on the outside?" Yawn again.

But once we get past all that, the film can get to what it really wants to get to: fight scenes, chase scenes (one great one in particular), gore scenes, more fight scenes, gross-out scenes, shootouts, more chase scenes, etc. You get the point.

What makes the experience of such scenes so jarring is the screwy originality of the culture that our Sexy Heroine (Rhona Mitra) confronts when she and her team of misfits cross the wall into quarantined Glasgow to find the unexpected survivors of the virus that was supposed to have wiped everyone out 30 years ago.

Marshall creates a vibrant, pulsating subculture that is a maniacally sensational cocktail of medieval, punk, S&M, goth, biker, body-art, post-apocalyptic (Mad Max-style), dystopian, the occult, Old West, and even zombie (there are no actual zombies, but the film stylistically calls them to mind). And I'm probably missing some. Oh yeah: Cannibalism is also involved.

The result is a riotous cinematic atmosphere, packed with clashing stylistic references, that is morbidly, strangely entertaining if nothing else. When the film essentially climaxes with an extended, over-the-top chase sequence complete with inexplicable stunts and a pulsing, pounding score, I knew I was getting treated to my cheapest moviegoing desires. And I liked it.

Never mind that what happens in the action sequences is literally inconsequential. Never mind that the "story" is hastily glossed over. The best I can say is that, during the last hour of the film, I was not bored for one second. Not one.

It's hard for me to even say Doomsday is "good," per se, because it offends so many of my own sensibilities (the construction is lazy, the editing is often disjointed, it's kind of pointless).

But maybe that's a good thing.

In fact, I'll come right out and say it: It is a good thing. And a job well-done.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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