(2008) dir. Neil Marshall
The end of the world is not what it used to be.
Maybe that has always been the case. Culture’s concepts of what the end of the world will look like or even what will bring it about, or even the modern version of “post-apocalypse”, the world after the end of the world…it’s changed a lot.
For writer/director Neil Marshall, Doomsday is a pastiche of history, science, sci-fi, and several “classic” or semi-classic post-apocalyptic visions, in particular, The Road Warrior (1981) and Escape From New York (1981). In fact, there is much of this vision that seems deeply steeped in the 1980’s and curiously so, beyond reason.
It’s a disease film. A strain of our present time’s most potent and ferocious (and potentially real) fears of human catastrophe is disease. And, like 28 Days Later… (2002), it hits Britain first. Of course, it doesn’t turn people into raging, blood-thirsty zombie-like things. No, it just kills them like Ebola with pus, blood, vomit, and skin lesions like you wouldn’t believe. And since the outbreak has happened in Glasgow, Scotland, the PM’s in London, harking back to both John Carpenter and Roman leader Hadrian, lock down all of Scotland in a quarrantine, to keep things from spreading.
Flash forward some 30 years or so later and we’ve got the disease breaking out again in the London slums and reports of survivors in Scotland who may carry an antibody or something that can be turned into a vaccine. So, in swings the heroine, a one-eyed exile of Scotland, pulled from her mother’s arms at the very last minute, who is now an ass-kicker of heights that, well…only women sci-fi fantasy gals seem to kick. Much like Carpenter’s film, she has to go in and bring out something.
What Marshall does is he turns this concept, this high, high concept, into a bit of a discourse on Scotland. Glasgow is the inner city from hell. And everyone that lives there and survives has grown colorful mohawks and listens to 1980’s indie pop. And they are cannibals. Heathen.
Our protagonist’s search takes her beyond Thunderdome, so to speak, and via a long tunnel, to yet another post-apocalyptic paradigm: Scotland returns to the middle ages. And here we have Malcolm McDowell as a one-time scientist, now turned medieval king in a world not entirely unlike one which was more amusingly imagined in Reign of Fire (2002), the only sci-fi, post-apocalypse that seems more outlandish than this one.
See, Scotland, in echoes of history of isolation and enmity and the Black Plague, (right?) has divied itself up into two scenarios: the ancient, forever-lasting castles and history of its ancient depths and also its innercity world, one of 1980’s punks and bondage and The Road Warrior. Dude. Every character in Glasgow must have seen this film ad nausea.
But what does it all mean? Darned if I can tell you.
The movie is so ambitious and ridiculous. It’s like a script that a 14 year old might have written in the late 1980’s, having watched all these other movies and said, “Dude, but what if it was set in Scotland?” From a contemporary perspective, its visions are anachronisms. They don’t make sense. In fact, the whole story doesn’t make sense given globalism, technology, the internet, satellites… It’s freaking ridiculous.
Okay, okay. Like why should I care. Who of you has even heard of this movie, my miniscule readership? Well, it comes from Neil Marshall, the only member of the “splat pack”, the current young horror filmmakers who have been randomly grouped together by the media, that I liked anything by. His previous efforts, Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005), indicated something brewing of potential. I’d been surprised when this film came and went so fast, with so little notice, even though it had gotten some decent reviews at times.
I am surprised no more. Marshall may continue to make interesting films. But this one will go down as one of his hammier, campier, silly-ass movies, no matter what else he does. There is ambition. There is definitely humor. But when I look back to both John Carpenter’s film and George Miller’s Mad Max series, you look at genre films that are focused on a critique of culture at the time. They play off of a zeitgeist and a character that made them unique, made them iconic. This film doesn’t really have anything interesting to say about the world of today. It’s a mildly entertaining piece of crap, but it lacks the things to which it pays homage. It lacks what made them memorable.
But it does have Scotland.