Saturday, November 1, 2008

Two Tribes


South African stunt woman Lee-Anne Liebenberg is memorable as Viper.

FURTHER advancing director Neil Marshall's affinity towards examining humanity in times of extreme stress, DOOMSDAY is set in 2033, where Scotland had been quarantined since the outbreak of the Reaper Virus in 2008. All communication lines with the outside world were cut and people left to die; as a final measure, a wall was built following the same line as the Roman frontier, cutting Britain in half. When the virus re-emerges in London, The Department of Domestic Security instructs Chief Nelson (Bob Hoskins) to select a leader for a military team to be sent into Scotland to bring back either a survivor, or a vaccine from a Dr Kane (Malcolm McDowell)'s lab. Nelson appoints Sergeant Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) who, with her comrades, head towards a job completed or to their deaths.

DOOMSDAY plays like a greatest hits package embracing apocalyptic efforts THE OMEGA MAN, MAD MAX 2 and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Marking a distinct increase in budget, Marshall still maintains his punky DIY aesthetic, but here functions more as a fanboy than a serious director; its his own private Grindhouse, a loving collage of genre throwbacks. In addition to its action heritage, when McDowell spouts soliloquies in a castle straight out of MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, we are reminded of another Marshall favourite, John Boorman’s EXCALIBUR. Luckily, in the midst of anarchy, Kane has managed to outfit an entire medieval castle with painstaking attention to period detail.

Rhona Mitra is Sinclair. Saved from the chaotic clutches of the disease-stricken zone when she was a little girl, she has grown up without a mother and has nothing to lose.

What redeems DOOMSDAY from being mere indulgence is the proficiency with which Marshall propels from one set-piece to the next. You have to credit the filmmaker for the rampaging senselessness, where somehow he wedges in pus-spurting ghouls, club-wielding punks, motorcycle chases, knights in armour, and gladiator fights, while breezing past matters as trivial as the plenitude of gas in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. There are also a couple moments of gratuitous cruelty toward animals that are meant to provide either a sick joke or a satirical statement about the Fascist nature of the government.

Effectively using a throwback pop soundtrack (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants), DOOMSDAY refreshingly relies on old-fashioned physical stunts rather than CGI, and consequently Marshall recaptures much of the rhythm and percussive power of the films he is referencing. Mitra handles her cold and distant role well and, although their scenes are brief, Hoskins and McDowell manage to register forcefully on screen, justifying their presence as something more than novelty casting. David O'Hara is excellent as the power behind the prime minister; his super-stiff body language is enough to tell you he's a bastard the first time you see him, and Craig Conway has a blast as the Mohawk-topped Sol, a hollow-eyed punk who keeps the mob happy with goofy production numbers and ritual human sacrifice.