March 24, 2008

Britain Overrun By Zombies … Again

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“Well that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” Those were the exact words that ran through my head — and through the mouth of a fellow movie-goer — after viewing Doomsday, the latest film by British filmmaker Neil Marshall (who also directed 2005’s horror flick about spelunking, The Descent). To be honest, the fact that Doomsday was a mess of a film and I still did not loathe it basically sums up the movie pretty well. Although certainly not a masterpiece by any stretch, Doomsday is an ambitious — if exceptionally bizarre — end-of-the-world flick that wildly mashes up futuristic, medieval and cannibalistic elements into 105 combative minutes of mayhem and anguish.

Set in London circa 2036, Doomsday is about how a flesh-eating virus — this one not-so-cleverly called the “Reaper” virus — wreaks havoc on the city and follows the government’s struggle to find a cure. Mind you, this is not the first time a film has unleashed a deadly virus on London. 28 Days Later similarly turned Londoners into rapid disease-stricken killers — which make Marshall’s writing here seem both recycled and tired — but I digress.

With the “Reaper” virus rapidly spreading through the city, an elite team of specialists led by the very appealing, though intense, Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), is enlisted to procure out an antidote from Doctor Kane (Malcolm McDowell) in Glasgow, Scotland — the city where the virus first surfaced 30 years ago. The catch here is that, while there is evidence of survival in the country, all of Scotland has been quarantined and walled-off from the rest of the world for that whole 30 year span. This separation from civilization has turned the survivors into a bunch of human-eating, gothic-clothes-wearing crazies, fashioning for themselves a mini-medieval empire that embraces public executions and colossal battles to the death.

If this all seems a bit ridiculous to you … well, it is. On a number of occasions I found myself amused by the most preposterous scenarios. Without giving too much away, there is one particularly outlandish scene that involves a human frying machine set to either “Rare,” “Medium” or “Extra-Krispy,” a chorus-line of fat men dancing the cancan and a crowd of mohawked, overly-tattooed acolytes writhing to arena-rock and eager to consume a human head. I kid you not.
And if that ain’t enough “fun” for you, the movie includes — whenever possible — innumerable head and hand decapitations. I lost count somewhere around the 40-minute mark, but the fact that writer-director Marshall is so enamored with chopping his characters’ extremities off becomes unintentionally humorous. Death is so everpresent in this film that even a cute little bunny rabbit gets garishly blasted to bits. The bottom line here is that Doomsday certainly delivers on its “man has an expiration date” promotional tagline.

What this film doesn’t deliver on are the performances given by its cast. Undoubtedly in this type of gut-spewing vehicle you expect less of an emphasis on acting (and more on gut-spewing). At the same time, many of the performances in Doomsday are so lifeless that you half expect inflatable dolls would be more engaging. The film’s punk-rocking cannibal villain Sol (Craig Conway) does a whole lot of maniacal hollering throughout but not much else. Sinclair’s fellow squad leader (Adrian Lester) gets the most screen time of the supporting cast, but in the end is forgettable. Even veteran actor Bob Hoskins, who plays Sinclair’s tough yet sensitive boss, is rarely compelling in his limited role. The one exception here is Mitra, who is best known for her recurring roles in The Practice and Boston Legal. In spite of the film’s sub-par writing, Mitra gives us a no-nonsense, forceful portrayal of the film’s heroine that is as tight and appealing as her physique.

Unfortunately, not even Mitra and her take-no-prisoners spunk can save this movie from what it is: a gaudy, frenzied emulsion of bloodshed and gore that works far too infrequently. And yet, in spite of all its flaws, I somehow did not hate this film. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so extraordinarily minimal there was no way it could disappoint.

Perhaps it was one of those rare films that are just so bad you enjoy it just to relish in its badness. And for me, I think both the film’s sheer ridiculousness — the repeatedly gruesome carnage and a stupefying storyline for example — coupled with low expectations were what held my interest. After all, who wouldn’t be engaged by a film that ends with the poetic line “If you’re hungry, try a piece of your friend!” Certainly not me.