Reviewed by Martin McGarth
It is a mistake to think of watching a film as a passive
experience. To properly enjoy cinema an audience, and the
individual viewer, has to be willing to engage with the images
flickering before them, they have to be willing to give something
back. Any film worth watching will require the audience to
work a bit to get the most from it.
And some films ask more of their audience than others.
Some films, often in black and white, with subtitles and
a lot of smoking, ask you to concentrate hard on theme or
setting. Some films will ask you to invest emotionally with
characters whose circumstances might be wildly different from
our own. And some films ask you to give flight to your imagination
and to suspend your cynicism.
Doomsday asks an awful lot of its audience but none
of those demands are made of the intellect, the emotions or
To enjoy Doomsday an audience has to be willing
to shut off those higher functions. They have to be willing
to sit back in their seats, widen their eyes and allow their
adrenal glands to take over. Those who remain conscious throughout
the almost two hours of Neil Marshal’s latest adventure
will get pleasure from recognising the various dystopias the
director has stolen from to create this film (Mad Max,
Escape from New York, 28 Days Later, Aliens... the list
is almost endless). But the real pleasure (it’s a base,
visceral, childish pleasure, but like a Mars bar, it remains
a pleasure) to be had from Doomsday comes when you
decide that you aren’t going to struggle against the
tide of silliness, you’re just going to throw your hands
up and go with the flow.
The story is that in the near future Scotland becomes the
site of the outbreak of a terrible plague – the reaper
virus – and as a result the whole country has been placed
in quarantine, with a huge wall cutting across the countryside.
Now, 27 years after the outbreak, the virus has broken out
in London. The English government – which has become
a corrupt police state – decide to send a team back
into Scotland in the belief that there may be survivors and
that those survivors may hold the key to a cure.
team is led by Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) a kick-ass policewoman
who lost her family and one eye (replaced by a neat electronic
version that can be removed and used as a remote surveillance
robot) in the original outbreak. Rhona leads her rapidly diminishing
team of expendables through nightmarish Glasgow and then to
the Scottish countryside where Malcolm McDowell holds court
in the style of a medieval king in a remote castle (complete
with gift shop signs) to a final showdown with the corrupt
The plot is predictable, the characters shallow and the action
often silly but Doomsday is still fun. Mitra makes
a passable action heroine, there’s good support from
the likes of Bob Hoskins, David O’Hara, Adrian Lester
and Alexander Siddig. And there’s the unmistakable sense
that Marshall loves this kind of movie and he’s doing
everything he can to recreate the excitement of movies he’s
enjoyed himself but with a much smaller budget.
Doomsday also reveals Marshall’s limitations
as a writer, the dialogue often clanks and crunches on the
ear. All the great movies that Marshall is referencing in
Doomsday had great action but they also had smart
dialogue and clever characterisation – Marshall’s
film can just about compete in the action stakes, but it is,
in comparison, a non-runner in the other categories.
Marshall deserves credit for being the one British director
capable of getting a slate of genre movies funded, produced
and actually released in the cinema. That Doomsday
is a slight misfire shouldn’t be allowed to block the
development of this genuinely interesting director.