Doomsday (2008): Don’t Fear the Reaper

As the poster so clearly states: A New Film From Neil MarshallDoomsday is the third film to be written and directed by Neil Marshall. The first two, Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005),  I have written about before. These three films, if watched in the order they were made, show Marshall’s growth and  increased status as a writer/director. Each progressive film benefits from an increased budget and the calibre of actors goes up as well.  More importantly, each film’s scope is enlarged; the first two films were a cozy affair. Single locale, set number of actors and scenes, FX capable but not too flashy. Doomsday in terms of all the above mentioned items, scoops them both.

Filmed for an estimated budget of $30,000,000 Doomsday looks impressive. The cast comprises the usual Marshall regulars, Sean PertweeEmma CleasbyNora-Jane NooneMyAnna Buring, and Craig Conway (Conway gives a stand out performance as the mad-as-hatter ruler of a blood thirsty mob of survivors – Sol). The cast also includes some big namesBob HoskinsMalcolm McDowell (as Sol’s pop, you can see where Sol gets his personality from), Rhona Mitra, like I said big names.

In the not too distant future a killer virus known as The Reaper sweeps through Britain. The government decide to contain the infected behind a huge fortified fence that stretches from coast to coast, cutting off Scotland completely and leaving everyone trapped behind the fence to die. The United Kingdom is condemned by the rest of the world for their actions.

Jump ahead thirty years and two things happen almost simultaneously. Satellites that have been orbiting the  contaminated area north of the fence spies movement and The Reaper has made an unwelcome return. A small group of elite specialist are drafted into entering the contaminated zone. Their mission is to find  a research laboratory that was working on a cure for the virus before they were trapped in the containment area and to find out who has survived and how.

Rhona Mitra is one-eyed Eden Sinclair (this role so obviously got her cast in Underworld 3) who leads the team of experts into the area. Eden, whose “glass-eye” doubles as a camera with video recording capability, is hard as nails and  very independent. Once she and her team breach the wall and head into the laboratory, they get jumped by Sol’s people. They are captured and as part of Sol’s twenty-four hour madness, Sean Pertwee is again killed at the beginning of the second reel.

The film has a very ‘Mad Max‘ feel to it. From the outfits that Sol’s people wear, to the vehicles they use at the end of the film in a protracted Mad Max chase scene, the film feels like an English version of the Mel Gibson cult favourites. Marshall himself stated the the Mad Max trilogy inspired him and that he was paying his own homage to the films.

It was very nice to see Malcolm McDowell as Sol’s father, the lab scientist who has decided to remake the survivors behind the wall into his vision of Darwin’s theory. His madness dictates that he can willing sacrifice his own children if they do not obey him and his rules. Once Eden returns from the infected territory with a “cure” for the reaper virus, she  sets up the very people who sent her and her team to almost certain death. She puts in motion  the mechanics for their downfall.

Doomsday is a cracking film. It has a snappy pace and the actors all do well. The bigger budget shows in the end result and I am guessing the Marshall will have an even bigger budget for his next film.

Marshall’s next film is The Last Voyage of Demeter,  Dracula fans will recognise the name of the ship, it is the one that transports the Count to England in the book. It looks as though  Marshall is going back to his horror roots. The film is due to be released in 2013. I am looking forward to it.


Dog Soldiers (2002) Once Bitten…

Written and directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion) Dog Soldiers was Marshall’s first feature length film. It has an impressive cast – Sean PertweeKevin McKiddEmma Cleasby and  Liam Cunningham. The film takes place in Scotland and at the beginning of the film we see a man and woman camping in the Highlands. As they are relaxing in their tent, the woman gives the man (played by Marshall regular Craig Conway) a silver letter opener. Soon after the couple are attacked and we presume killed.

The film then moves on to a chase. One man Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd)  is being chased by a group of soldiers. He is soon caught and taken to the ground. The man leading the chase is Captain Ryan (Liam Cunnigham). After Cooper’s capture, Ryan explains that a dog gave Cooper away. This whole event has been Pvt Cooper’s entrance exam for joining the Special Forces.  Captain Ryan tells Cooper that he has done well and that if he wants  to be in the Special Forces he has to be ruthless. Ryan then orders Cooper to shoot the dog that gave him away. Cooper refuses and Ryan shoots the dog himself and returns Cooper to his Regular unit.

Four weeks later Cooper is out on a night-time exercise in the Scottish Highlands. He is part of a six-man squad lead by Sergeant Harry G. Wells (Sean Pertwee). Their mission is to meet up with and train against a squad of Special Forces Soldiers (SAS). When  Cooper and the squad find the  SAS camp, it has been destroyed and  all the occupants killed, except for Coopers “old friend” Captain Ryan. Ryan has been injured.

The squad then take Ryan and head for help. While they are moving out, several shapes in the area are moving around the squad. The shapes start attacking and in the rush, one of the squad is impaled on a tree branch and Sergeant Wells is injured. Cooper fights off Wells’ attacker and the remainder of the squad retreat.

They then bump into a woman in a Land Rover – Megan (Emma Cleasby) who drives them to a farmhouse. Once inside Megan explains that the things that attacked the soldiers were werewolves. Ryan confirms this, when he finally tells the group that the SAS had been sent there to capture one for research. The group then barricade themselves in the farmhouse and prepare to defend themselves until daylight.

This film contains a couple of  ‘firsts‘ not least of which is the fact that Sean Pertwee actually makes it to the end of the film. Pertwee is almost always cast as characters who expire dramatically in the first or second reel of a film. He has been: eaten alive, blown up, decapitated, et al. He is the English version of Michael Ironside. This is also the first film to feature, to the best of my knowledge, werewolves and soldiers as adversaries.

Marshall moves this film along at a great pace. He has also  made an almost perfect blend of the  thriller and horror genres. The casting was spot on. As the audience we love Cooper, hate Ryan, and feel for Wells. All the actors in fact do their roles justice. Emma Cleasby as Megan is at turns, appealing, wistful, attractive and finally scary.

Watching this film you can see why Marshall is a member of the unofficial “Splat Pack,” a term coined by film historian Alan Jones in Total Film magazine for the modern wave of directors making brutally violent horror films. The film is brutal and it is violent, but it also has it’s fair share of irony and humour. This was Marshall’s first time at bat and he knocked it out of the park.

It is plain to see that Marshall has a certain panache when it comes to the genre. His second film,  The Descent makes Dog Soldiers look like a walk in the park in comparison. His third film in what I like to call his “Horror Trilogy” Doomsday  shows a fine tuning of his skills as a story teller and the calibre of his cast reflects this.

I think Marshall may soon be established as the unofficial leader of the “Pack.”