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Britflix: Doomsday

"A fantastic homage or a shameless rip-off?"

2008’s Doomsday was a passion project from horror director Neil Marshall. An homage to the B-Movies from the 70s and 80s which he grew up on – giving them a British spin. While the initial critical reception was mixed upon its original release, the movie has developed a cult following, particularly in Scotland.

In 2008, Glasgow suffers from an outbreak of a deadly illness known as The Reaper Virus which quickly spreads across the country. The British government responded by erecting a wall across the border between England and Scotland – as well as Marshall’s native Newcastle. 27 years later another viral outbreak has struck, this time in Central London. The government led by Prime Minister Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) and his adviser Michael Canaris (David O’Hara) believes the best hope for a cure would be in Scotland; sending a special-forces team lead by the one eyed Major Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) to find a medical researcher, Marcus Kane (Malcolm McDowell) who stayed behind in Scotland to study the virus.
Doomsday is essentially Escape From New York combined with the Mad Max movies. It is just a big budget fan film from Marshall, copying some of his favorite movies. The movie starts with a prologue similar to Escape From New York showing how and why Scotland was isolated – with the graphics looking more than inspired from the John Carpenter movie and the main villain, Sol (Craig Conway), looked like Wez in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The final action sequence where the heroes are chased by a group of cannibals is like the final chase in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior – made even worse because it was blatantly shot in the dry savannah of South Africa instead of the green lands of Scotland. Although to be fair to Doomsday, as a copy of Escape From New York, Marshall did a much better job than John Carpenter did with his own sequel Escape From LA.

Doomsday excels with its action sequences – in an age of PG-13 action movies and CGI heavy superhero flicks it is refreshing to see an action film being unashamedly violent, with the use of practical stunts and effects. Doomsday was, and still is, Marshall’s biggest movie: costing £17 Million. Marshall previously worked in the horror genre and he transitions to filming action easily enough. His experience was perfect for showing the bloody pustules of the Reaper Virus and showing what happens to people who were on the wrong end of a stab instrument. The early shoot outs are perfectly bloody and the hand-to-hand fights are top-notch – one of the best is a sword fight between Sinclair and Sol’s tattooed girlfriend. When the special forces team is chased by the cannibals in the post-apocalyptic Glasgow, the cannibals jump around on motorbikes (so an average night out in Glasgow). This scene looked like it influenced George Miller when he made Mad Max: Road Fury. Even when the movie takes the bizarre turn into medieval land with the action involving knights and archers, Doomsday still satisfies as an action movie and the medieval setting gave us a taste of what was to come with Marshall’s superior follow-up Centurion and his Game of Thrones episodes.
As an action lead, Rhona Mitra looked the part and convinced in the fight scenes, but her lack of film roles is testament to her lack of acting ability. Her delivery was flat and emotionless and she was outshone by her supporting cast members, like the underrated Adrian Lester as her second-in-command and O’Hara, whose voice was so gravely it sounded like he ate sandpaper, while Malcolm McDowell and Bob Hoskins were competent professionals. Mitra was a low-budget Kate Beckinsale – her follow-up role was the Underworld prequel Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, replacing Beckinsale as the protagonist.

Doomsday also has some strong music thanks to Tyler Bates. Bates repeated what he did with 300, mixing a rock sound with classical style music. The most memorable tracks being when the soldiers are captured by Kane’s knight and the final Mad Max-esque chase scene.

Doomsday is best to be thought of as a throwback, a type of movie we do not see that often anymore – a violent action B-movie. Marshall’s directing ability was evident and even though his writing with Doomsday was lacking, it would be great to see him return to the action genre.

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