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Doomsday: a freak show that’s less than sum of its parts

by Glen Baity

On a Monday morning between two and 10 years from now, one of your co-workers might tell you about a movie he or she saw at 4 a.m. over the weekend, perhaps on the Movie Channel or one of the more esoteric Encore networks.

Maybe it’s the former video store clerk in me, but I love guessing movie titles from shaky descriptions. Here’s how this one will be described to you:

“There was some kind of an outbreak in Scotland, and England builds a wall to keep the infected people out. Then I fell asleep for a few minutes, and I woke up and it was like The Road Warrior, with a bunch of people dressed like Cyberpunk-era Billy Idol, and they were dancing around and yelling, and then they cooked some dude and ate him. Then I fell asleep again, and I woke up, and it was like Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves crossed with Gladiator crossed with a car commercial. I’m pretty sure it was all the same movie, though, because the same woman was in all three parts. She kinda looks like Kate Beckinsdale, but not really.”

Because you have demonstrated considerable patience up to this point, you, and you alone, will know that this movie is Doomsday. I’m very impressed, as will be those gathered around your cubicle.

Never mind if the foregoing description doesn’t make any sense. Doomsday is a most nonsensical hodgepodge of a movie, but the above is, I promise you, quite accurate. Writer-director Neil Marshall showed a lot of promise with 2005’s scary-as-hell The Descent, a low-budget, claustrophobic monster movie that caused me to sleep with the lights on for more than a few nights after viewing. You can’t accuse his follow-up of lacking ambition, and it even has a gonzo sort of creativity about it, considering the three disparate films Marshall has decided to slap together.

Now, here are some things you can accuse it of: bad writing, bad acting, nausea-inducing editing, excessive gore and borderline cinematic thievery. Let’s start with the plot.

Doomsday jumps off in early 2008, when an outbreak of something called the Reaper virus chokes the life out of Scotland. Those afflicted go nuts and turn their rage on dwindling number of healthy souls, who are all but ignored by the powers that be to the south.

If that sounds familiar, you probably saw 28 Weeks Later (or, for that matter, pretty much any George Romero movie).

British authorities effectively split the island in two, allowing the healthy to live in England while Scotland is left to burn. But over the years, as the Reaper virus emerges anew in the clean zone, satellite photos reveal something strange: Against all odds, life has persisted in the Highlands, and the second and third acts detail how those immune to the virus have split Scotland into halves. Mohawked goon Sol (Craig Conway) leads the cannibalistic mob that lives the Thunderdome life, while Kane (Malcolm McDowell) heads the clan that prefers to dress in Medieval garb and bow hunt on horseback.

Yes, you read that right. It’s weird, weird stuff.

Thrown into the mix is Eden (Rhona Mitra), a super-soldier working for the British government who hopes to find a Reaper vaccine among the living in Scotland.

Say what you will about this odd picture, but Marshall is a filmmaker who loves to retain the element of surprise. The Descent is a gripping survival picture for nearly 45 minutes before the viewer gets the first hint of something else in the dark; similarly, Doomsday starts off as a perfectly average end-of-the-world yarn before it heads for stranger territory.

Of course, just because something is surprising doesn’t make it good, and the fact that Doomsday isn’t boring does nothing to recommend it as a film to spend your time and money on. The barely-spackled-over plot holes, the actors’ cheeseball delivery and a few scenes that, shot for shot, are nearly identical to scenes in other films (one character’s death, for example, seems lifted entirely from the first Lord of the Rings movie) make this one hell on earth that’s exceedingly hard to love.

To comment on this article, e-mail Glen Baity at glen.baity@gmail.com.

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