Appropriacalypse Now

A Review of Doomsday (R)

When a movie comes out called Doomsday, it invariably draws ones mind to many other end-of-world films that have graced (or smeared) the silver screen over the last several decades. There are so many creative ways the apocalypse might be ushered in, after all. It could be zombies, infections, decay of social order, climate change, a cataclysmic event throwing us back to the stone age (or the thunderdome) with a broken statue of liberty tipped like the leaning Tower of Pisa and Will Smith saving the world. However, with so many days of doom lurking in the cinematic shadows of the past, what’s a tough girl like Eden Sinclair (actress Rhona Mitra) to do? Apparently, imitation is the highest form of flattery… as Eden literally runs and drives through at least four or five classic films in the “new” film by director Neil Marshall (The Descent).

I remember a story as a child about “The Borrowers“, cute little people who lived in the walls and borrowed small items from the homeowners (this explains your lost keys, toys, buttons, etc.) so they could live. Marshall’s film lives off of borrowing, from Danny Boyle and Mel Gibson to Peter Jackson and John Carpenter. Gibson, your keys are in Eden Sinclair’s Bentley. Mr. Carpenter, “Doomsday” is in your floorboards. Admittedly, like the titular characters of that childhood book, the film is actually pretty cute… in a devastating, end-of-world kind of way.

The film begins in nice stew of Resident Evil: Apocalypse and 28 Days Later, as people are walled up in an infected area of the British Isles. Decades later when the virus breaks out in London, Eden “Snake Plissken” Sinclair (complete with fake eye instead of eyepatch) is charged with going over the wall in a race against time to find the cure amidst the discovered survivors. She finds herself in a British adaptation of Escape from New York, rescuing a girl and escaping from the angry punk-rock villains who assemble in a Thunderdome that would make Tina Turner proud.

As they transition to appropriating another familiar property, they literally go through a tunnel in a mountain like Alice’s rabbit hole, then find themself at an old Scottish castle and meet requisite surly villain actor Malcom McDowell, who has taken the Society for Creative Anachronism thing a bit too far (there is a great moment where a menacing medieval figure stands next to a castle door; the sign next to him says “Gift Shop”). Eden must fight a warrior who looks as menacing as the Nazgul King, then escape – on horseback, of course – from the Medieval Times set. They then take to the desert roads in a sweet Bentley where the heroes must contend with Road Warrior style cars, buggies, and buses.

Meanwhile, things back in London have gone all 28 Weeks later, as infected viral nutjobs attack the Prime Minister with an axe. Seriously, all we were missing were some evolved Apes and a cameo by Heston. Okay, and a Terminator (though Eden DOES have that robotic eye). I feel cheated. Still, if you’re an avid film buff paying attention, you’ll note moments reminiscent of Aliens and Equilibrium, among others.

In a world where everyone cries that Hollywood is out of ideas, at least this unabashed homage feels oddly honest. It seems as if director Neil Marshall knows he’s making a cheesy action movie and – like a movie-raised kid – is recreating his favorite movie moments from doomsday films. It’s like watching “Lara Croft and the Temple of Universal Studios” (actress Rhona Mitra used to be a Lara model, BTW) as she runs from famous movie scene to famous movie scene with a snarl and girl power. Even the Indiana Jones inspired serial formula is present – you could carve this movie into about four or five episodes and expect to hear “stay tuned next week as Eden goes from the congo to… outer spaaace!” Ah, well… maybe in the sequel.

Spiritual and philosophical themes? Crap, this movie is all over the map with plague, man’s hostility against each other in variant forms, the anti-hero, a desperate hopelessness, and the need for someone to stand up and save the world. Still, the “buffet matinee” that is Doomsday doesn’t leave you enough time to truly grapple with any. Other than reminding you of the resonance of the films it stands on, there is naught here but nostalgia. If you like going on movie-themed rides at Six Flags, you might like Doomsday. It is not great cinema, but it is an amusing ride.

  1. D. Taibi

    I just watched this movie on in DVD release. I completely agree with your review. It is nothing but derivative, yet is surprisingly watchable. Maybe I enjoyed it because of having seen most of the movies Marshall “borrowed” from. Still, I have a little disappointment because I think this film could have been very good if it had one predominant sensibility throughout and used the homages as salt and pepper, rather than changing gears as often as Sinclair in her Bentley. Even the music of the film was disjointed from sequence to sequence, switching between John-Carpenteresque minimalism to 80’s New Wave to orchestral bombast. But for all that, it has a Joe Cool (…er, Jane Cool) ending and is a fun ride. It’ll be interesting to contrast this to the next apocalypse with a girl hero- Blindness- coming out in October.

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