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WTF? On Film 2: Doomsday

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS I had high hopes for Doomsday: the trailer looked cool I thought and I’d enjoyed both of writer/directior Neil Marshall’s previous efforts, The Descent and Dog Soldiers, bar a few minor quibbles over character. But horror is not *usually* noted for sympathetic characters and let’s face it, the boys in Dog Soldiers had some killer lines: “So if Red Riding Hood turns up with a bazooka and a bad attitude, I want you to chin the bitch!” Plus The Descent was one of the few horror movies to freak me out so royally I needed to sleep WITH THE LIGHT ON.

I suppose then for me the first red flag to go up was the extended prologue: I’m not big on those anyway, but it starred the redhead I Had A Problem With in Dog Soldiers (yes, the werewolf woman that somehow didn’t need to change when the rest of the werewolves outside did and seemed to exist solely in the story for that really bad PMS joke at the end). I decided I could afford to be charitable however: maybe she’s Neil Marshall’s wife or best friend or something. Besides, it was Saturday and I had beer. I could deal with the redhead. It was pretty clear her role was a cameo; the character would die (or at least be doomed) soon and we could get on with it.

So the prologue about Scotland being infected with the Reaper Virus and being sealed off came and went and we were introduced to Sinclair, the female protagonist and now grown up version of the child the redhead put on the helicopter. She’s now a hardcore policewoman with a fake eye that can look round corners. Plus she’s hot – and I mean really hot. Even I fancied her. Plus her haircut was nice. We are introduced to her for a really long time… And reminded about how her mother sent her to England when she talks to Bob Hoskins outside after blowing away the Perp inside like the hardcore policewoman she is. Even though it was five minutes ago. But okay, okay. Again I’m being a story Nazi. Chill out. We’ve got a gorgeous bird in very tight trousers and the promise of extreme violence to come, not to mention bloody, hideous death via the aforementioned Reaper Virus which has somehow come back… Oh and there it is: some bloke spewing and haemorraging all over the shop in the streets of London. Excellent.

But now we need some politics – and that too lasts a while, plus there’s some CGI of the wall and more on what happened in Scotland. The Prime Minister and some scary Scottish Politician decide what to do – and of course they need Bob Hoskins who in turn tells them our friend Sinclair is The One To Save Us All. She’s going to be part of the crack team they send over the wall into Scotland: some people over there have somehow survived the Reaper Virus, so they *must* be immune – if they can catch one, then they make a vaccine! A couple of problems though: the Scottish have gone feral and it’s all post Apocalyptic Mad Max over that side of the wall…

Now, my father was born in Dundee, so I love the idea of a feral Scotland, not least because he’s mad as a hatter (hi Dad). I also think it’s probably likely that if one of the sections of the UK went tits up like that, the Government would slam a lid on it and seal it off, leaving it to its own devices. As controversial too a view as it is (brace yourselves!), I even enjoyed the first RESIDENT EVIL (if not the latter films). So Doomsday was definitely not without its appeal, even before we have Rhona Mitra in her tight fitting trousers.

However, it rose on my WTF? radar as it went on though, for the following reasons:

It was not differentiated enough from its predecessors. By the time Doomsday came out, we’d had a stack of virus-based apocalypses in films, both American AND British. We’d had all the Resident Evils (or at least two of them), plus 28 Days Later AND 28 Weeks Later as the most obvious – you could even stick in Shaun of the Dead if you wanted to get anal. The spaces in Doomsday then were filled with both Mad Max and Michael Crichton’s Timeline (but more of that in a minute). I know execs ask for “the same… but different” but for me at least, it seemed more of the “same” and not enough of “different”.

The characters were forgettable. I thought Sinclair lacked charisma – and none of the secondaries were particularly colourful or memorable, though Adrian Lester *almost* wormed his way into my affections. The antagonist, Sol, was just plain mental – though fun, I didn’t really get what his problem was (yes I know he and his people had been left to die by HM Government, I mean **besides that**: he seemed to have a pretty good life going on behind the wall, people were worshipping him and stuff – though Sinclair DOES chop his girlfriend’s head off… I suppose that is a little antisocial).

But anyway: I always judge a movie by how well I remember the characters’ names: the better I think the movie, the more likely I am to remember not only who played the character (which is easy enough if the actor turns up a lot in a particular genre, like Sean Pertwee!), but the character’s name FIRST [Quick example: I think “Ripley” BEFORE I think “Sigourney Weaver”, or “John McClane” before “Bruce Willis.”] One of the most interesting things for me then about the characters in Doomsday is I could not remember a single character’s name whilst actually watching it. I had to look on IMDB later – and Sinclair’s name again whilst writing this post. As my husband and I were watching, we were actually talking and asking each other about the characters’ actions, so Sinclair was referred to as “that bird off Life of David Gale”, Adrian Lester was “the guy from Hustle”, Bob Hoskins was “Roger Rabbit guy” and Sean Pertwee was… well, Sean Pertwee. (Dog Soldier IS The Hub’s fave film).

There were too many homages. I never thought I would write that: how can a film have too many nods for horror Geeks like me in the audience? Yet Doomsday seemed to. When the crack team breaks in through the Scottish wall for example in their uber-tank and scope out the place which looks like the Marie Celeste, I believed for a second I was watching Aliens. Add all the Mad Max and Escape From NY stuff and the fact the Scottish Ferals are listening to “Fine Young Cannibals” which was old even by their standards (I think I’m right in thinking they got entombed in 2007 or 8? FYT was an 80s band), I was scratching my head.

I didn’t understand why the Scottish Ferals were cannibals. As the crack team drive their super-duper tank across Scotland, they run over a bunch of cows. There were stacks of them. Wouldn’t it be easier – and tastier – to eat them, rather than Sean Pertwee? Surely he is all gristle??

Doomsday couldn’t seem to decide what it was. Doomsday did not start as it meant to go on in my view: when it began, it did not appear if this was going to be a horror played for laughs – like in Dog Soliders, for example; its strength was its humour; I thought it was hilarious, particularly when Sean Pertwee’s guts are hanging out and Coop shouts: “Then we’ll put them back in, sir!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think horror *has* to have humour for contrast, plenty don’t and work well. Yet Doomsday started serious and by the end had become a horror/comedy, with bad guy Sol racing in his uber-fast car after Sinclair and friends with his dead girlfriend next to him, only for her head to fly off. He’s then despatched in a classic “Oh shit!” moment in a big explosion. Amusing, but why the inconsistency in tone? A similar thing appeared to happen with the events of Sinclair’s journey: at the start behind the wall it’s all very Mad Max in feel, then moments later she’s in a medieval gladiatorial arena. Whilst an interesting contrast, the change – considering medieval Dude was Sol’s own father – seemed odd, I didn’t understand how it happened exactly. Now, I have to admit I DID go and get more beer at one point, so perhaps I missed something. Although the fridge is not exactly eons away from my living room, unless of course there is some sort of time anomaly in my kitchen?

Now, there WERE moments I did enjoy in Doomsday, believe it or not: I loved the idea the medieval girl didn’t know what a car or a mobile phone was when they discovered a GIANT STACK OF THEM in a bunker near the big castle and as mentioned earlier, Adrian Lester was pretty good, dying heroically too like he did. Plus the barbeque of Sean Pertwee was always going to be a winner for me: not enough men get scorched in horror in comparison to the likes of poor Cybil (as in Silent Hill, in my post yesterday). Also, I’m always willing to concede the idea that films don’t end up the way they’re intended – so many people go into the soup of filmmaking, it’s always a possibility something will go wrong or a huge dash of ego from the execs might make it taste wrong (I’ll stop mixing my metaphors now).

But ultimately, I just didn’t enjoy Doomsday like I enjoyed The Descent or Dog Soldiers. What about you?


Doomsday on IMDB

Doomsday trailer

Doomsday on Wikipedia

Doomsday Reviews

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21 thoughts on “WTF? On Film 2: Doomsday”

  1. Now there’s a culinary tip even Jamie Oliver would be proud of:

    “Don’t eat Sean Pertwee, he’s full of gristle.”


    I’m with you, Luce: v disappointed by Doomsday

  2. How can you not remember the names of the soldiers sent to Scotland: they were Miller (after George Miller, director of Mad Max films) and Carpenter (after John Carpenter, director of Escape from NY/LA films). Nothing like wearing your influences on your sleeve!

    This falls into the “so bad it’s so good” category for me. There is nothing redeeming about the story, acting and, to a certain extent, directing but look at what you have got: cannibals dancing (and eating) to Fine Young Cannibals (Subtlety was asked to take part in the film but it’s fee was too high). Escape from city on a steam train – yes, a fucking steam train. Fight with knights in armour. A post-apocalyptic car chase set to Two Tribes by Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

    Totally marvellous in a gloriously WTF? way with an added dollop of “No seriously, WTF?”

    Like I think I said in my brief review of this last year, it’s like someone turned around to Neil Marshall and said “You’re only allowed to make one more film ever and after that you’re not going to be able to go near another film set again.” So he said to himself “Shit, what do I do? I want to do a zombie film wait, no, I want to do Escape from New York or maybe Mad Max or something all post-apocalypticy with zombies and a virus or maybe a Tomb Raidery type thing. But there’s that dramatic piece about post-punk mob culture in the 80s that I’ve been thinking about as well as the Lord of the Flies adaptation that’s long overdue. Also I wanted to do a film about time-travel and a film about King Arthur and his knights and – I know! I know! – I’ll put them all in the same film! It’ll be great.”

    Still, Rhona Mitra in tight trousers. She’s almost enough to make me go and see Underworld 3.

  3. Doomsday is on my ever-growing list of horror / genre movies SO weak I get annoyed. Mostly because it has a premise that could have become something really amazing – and yet it remained as groundbreaking as an episode of a random crime procedural.

    I mean – there’s not a single new idea in the whole concept, still the concept itself is great. A wall, a virus, 30 years of a rotten society simmering in the remains of a ravaged country? Fantastic?

    And then? The usual cyberpunk crap. The medieval bit was interesting, but all in all I didn’t find the answer to the very juicy “what if…” question enjoyable.

    Seen it a hundred times before, we’ll see it a hundred times from now on.

  4. Drac, you are clearly insane – and worse than that, it’s spread to your membrane ; )

    JJ – I agree, the whole idea of the wall etc sounded great… But I had THE RAGE again by the end. Luckily I had a 24 pk of beer and some salt n’ vinegar twirls though, so it was quickly abated

  5. Wait – what?

    Why am I the insane one when you’re the one trying to critically analyse a film that cannot be critically analysed. You can’t examine the story for this because there is none. You can’t examine the arena because while there are several, one features Sean Pertwee being eaten the other has a knight in plate armour and pit full of big wooden stakes. The only themes involved are the musical ones on the soundtrack.

    Sense? IT MAKES NONE!

    Anyway – I reviewed it here and I think the recommendation was not to go and see it. I stand by that but I also stand by the admiration for Neil Marshall for putting out something which is so blatantly WTF.

    Seriously, this film has fat, kilt wearing cannibals dancing on stage to the Bad Manners rendition of the can-can and you’re the one trying to analyze it and you’re the one calling me insane.

    Kingdom of the blind, one-eyed man, yadda yadda yadda.


  6. Oh good grief. This sounds like the kind of shit that kids think up from reading too much 2000 AD let alone from watching horror movies.

    In fact it sounds like some of the crappy stories that were in the comic when I was a kid. And as we know, that was fucking ages ago!

    Here’s the one question I have… did the virus that turned everyone into cannibals/wankers give them an aversion to water? Escape from New York was spectacularly dumb but at least because Manhattan is an island with the bridges blown, the tunnels blocked, and it could be completely walled up. What did they do in Doomsday, wall up the whole damn country or just build, as suggested, a super Hadrian’s wall to keep all the infected Jocks in?

    Couldn’t they have swum around it or got a boat? Or did they have the coasts patrolled by sharks with missile launchers strapped to their heads?


    (Okay that’s three words, which is two more than this kind of crap deserves).

  7. I think I may be alone here, but I really enjoyed Doomsday. When I was growing up I always used to get annoyed comparing the US output of genre films to the British lack of genre films in the late 80s/early 90s and wishing for a film like Doomsday. I think it has a lot of problems (although they’re the same problems most of the films it’s referencing have) and it came along about 15 years too late, but I think it fills hole in British cinema history that badly needed filling.

    For all the silliness of the plot, it is a well made film and a huge leap in scale from the 1 location, handful of characters movies Marshall was used to. I see it as a director taking a tried and tested formula and using it to challenge himself and sometimes that’s okay. It makes me excited about what he’ll do next.

  8. I’m with Chris. I loved it in all of it’s not Mad Max glory.

    (Definitely not in the horror genre at all, much more in the pulp post-apocalypse insane category.)


  9. Good Dog, I believe the waters around Scotland were booby trapped and patrolled by Government ships. Or something.

    Eleanor & Chris, you are dead to me now. DEAD TO ME.

  10. I believe the waters around Scotland were booby trapped and patrolled by Government ships. Or something.

    Oh, that’s just stupid. Actually, that’s even more stupid because they tried to come up with piss-poor excuses that might wash for the hard of thinking in the audience.

    How did people get the virus? Was it airborne? How did they build the wall? Things like that aren’t constructed overnight while nobody is looking.

    It seems to be a story based on so many loose threads that everyone has to pretend to ignore in case it all unravels. So either it’s treating the audience like idiots or knows that they’re idiots in the first place. Christ, no wonder it tanked!

    Is anyone being foolish enough to give this idiot money to make another film?

  11. Ya know – a lot of those questions are actually answered in the film. Whether or not they’re answered to your satisfaction is entirely irrelevant because at the end of the day a) they covered the point and b) who gives a fuck anyway? The more films are analysed for their realism and viability, the less they become escapist nonsense whether it be absolute trash like Doomsday or high concept and successful films like The Terminator (where the details and specifics of time travel and sending metal or whatever back in time were glossed over because examining it in too much detail would not only expose the plotholes but would have distracted from the story.)

    Seriously – looking for reason and sense in a film that has can-can dancing cannibals and a woman with a removable bionic eye is like looking for WMDs in Iraq.

  12. I think, in his own unique way, Good Dog is making the point that just because it’s escapist doesn’t mean it has to be stupid. Terminator is escapist and fantastic (in the original meaning) – but it also deals with complex stuff in an intelligent way. But what’s more, daft films can be good fun too – there was nothing remotely intelligent about Dog Soldiers IMHO, but it was still (mostly) coherent. I don’t think coherency is to much to ask of films, but then as I always say people view stories in different ways.

  13. It’s not about analysing films for realism and viability it’s about creating a believable set up. It’s about using common sense. Let’s take Terminator as an example. Time travel and killer robots don’t exist. Well, unless they do and I didn’t get the memo. So it’s a fantastical concept. But then, to make it a believable story, there have to be restrictions to add to the peril. The big one is no metal coming back. What that means is no using futuristic weaponry. Otherwise the chappie sent to save Sarah Conner could come back with some massive fuck-off disintegrator gun to blast the robot to pieces.

    The whole time travel construct can sound ridiculous so the first time it’s explained the characters are under duress, the words are spat out and if she wants to live she has to go with it. When the story is repeated again in the police interview room – which is a more comfortable environment – the cops and psychiatrist treat it as a load of nonsense. It addresses the reaction of a portion of the audience.

    Deadly viruses and quarantine areas. Yeah, we have those here. Not all the time, but they exist. So there are protocols that exist. If they are ignored then any rational person is going to start asking questions. Why use the whole of Scotland as the quarantined area? Why not drive those infected to the northern Scottish isles and then cleanse the previously infected areas? Why not cleanse the whole area while those infected are still there and wipe it all out? How many miles of coastline has to be patrolled to stop anyone infected getting out? Who is involved in this military action? How much does that cost? Would it be more cost effective to wipe everyone out?

    If, in the script stages those questions can be answered it stops the audience asking them later. It may create restrictions but the thought process may spit up better ideas. If the writer thinks that’s too much hard work then he give up, he didn’t want to write the script anyway.

    These films need some elements of authenticity to them otherwise they treat the audience like a bunch of unintelligent arseholes. If that’s what you want, knock yourself out.

  14. Think about it another way then: if they answered every one of your questions, pointing out how they built the wall (which, if i recall, they did allude to because at the start it’s a wire fence and by the time the action takes place, it’s a fucking great big wall), why they didn’t move the infected up to the islands, how they patrolled the coastline etc. then you would have added a load more scenes to the already overlong prologue and slowed any chance of getting to the main story (well, the sequence of events that passes for a story at least). I’m sure you could have had an entire film about the origins of the virus and the effect it had and the decisions taken by the government and the subsequent decisions or lack of them but that’s a different film.

    There has got to be a point where you draw a line and say “this is our premise – deal with it or fuck off”. If Doomsday had actually been a good and entertaining film rather than the fetid pile of necrotic shite it was but still revolved around action in a Scotland that had been walled up after an outbreak, I’d bet good money that the intelligent people watching the film would probably shrug and say “implausible but whatever”.

    Just like they did with the Terminator which, despite your defence, still leaves many, many questions unanswered like why didn’t the terminator build a phased plasma rifle – surely it wouldn’t have been too much trouble to download the schematics into it’s CPU or why didn’t Skynet adapt his frame so that he could hide a laser gun under the skin and cut it out when he went back in time? How about the liquid metal T1000 in T2 – which seemed to ignore the rules about needing to be covered in living tissue. Couldn’t it have wrapped itself around a gun and transported it back in time that way. The “no metal going back” is designed exactly

    28 Days Later (which I can’t recall whether you hated or not) where Jim comes out of the hospital into an impressively deserted, post-infection London. What do you notice? There are no bodies anywhere. None at all – except in the church. Authentic? Realistic? No – but as Danny Boyle said, it was an artistic choice because the image of a totally deserted London was far better. I agree with him.

    I feel violated in some unidentifiable way because this all seems like I’m defending Doomsday when I’m not. I think you just got the brunt of a different complaint which I should really blog about myself and discuss there.

  15. I’m not sure who you’re replying to, Drac – but I certainly recognise the fact you didn’t like Doomsday, you’ve said here and I read your post about it at the time. I also agree with you about premise: I have lost count of the number of times I’ve said to script reading clients they have draw the kind of line you describe – there DOES come a point where stuff happens “just because”.

    But I also agree with GD’s point that a fantastic film can still hold *some level* of plausibility within that “just because”.

    So I’m depressingly on the fence! Sorry. Not like me, I know. Check out my views on Van Helsing – controversial to many, I’m sure…

  16. No, you’re still not getting it. I was talking about answering every question (and shooting down what doesn’t work) in the “script stages” not the final shooting script. In fact questions like that should addressed much earlier on when you’re spitballing the idea. Then when everything is worked out you integrate it, piece by piece, into the story where necessary.

    I’m not talking about having some monstrous great prologue that fills in every damn detail because the audience, however hopped up on a sugar rush they are by then, will have nodded off. I discovered I had downloaded the trailer from when it first appeared on the Apple site and watched it. Even that shows the chief story flaw. With a disease you contain and eradicate not just simply contain. That illogical step undermines the whole premise. At least with Escape from New York, which is almost as dumb stuck to criminals. better to have your neighbour steal your wallet than give you a dose of ebola.

    Unfortunately the chap who wrote and directed it seemed to be too busy wanking out his “homage” to The Road Warrior and all those other post-apocalyptic movies that gave him a woody. It’s not so much saying “this is our premise – deal with it or fuck off” but simply “fuck you” to the people foolish enough to see it. If it’s a low-budget piece of tat that only caters for the kids who like this sort of stuff, fine. But if you want to reach a bigger audience you have to address the premise sensibly.

    Why didn’t the Terminator build a plasma gun? Because from the scenes set in the future the weapon did the same job as a shotgun or semi-automatic which in the present age could be obtained immediately over the counter. Sorry it doesn’t sate the appetite of fanboys who only want to see laser guns in action but that’s the way it goes.

    By the time the sequel rolled around it was James Cameron blowing lots of shit up and getting the pulses racing. Everyone knew what they were going to get and happily bought into it. Still, that sort of thing didn’t make him indestructible. The Abyss was even more flawed and everyone stayed away.

    Oh yeah, I did see 28 Days Later. Missing it at the cinema, I bought the DVD for four quid. Having watched it once I still want my money back.

  17. Ebola – hmmmm. Let me run this quickly by you then: England closes Scotland border as Ebola spreads. Far fetched? Ridiculous? Change the words England for Congo and Scotland for Angola and you’ve got a genuine headline from a couple of weeks ago.

    My point being that the very premise you deride as being totally illogical is coherent enough to reflect the headlines that people may or may not have seen. Substitute Ebola for a virus “like Ebola but much, much worse and doesn’t have a cure”. A premise that has roots in reality. It’s enough of a reference point that people are likely to accept it. They won’t know or even give a shit about containment and eradication because that’s not what they’re there to see.

    Big fucking wall dividing the country? Hadrian’s Wall. Berlin Wall. Great Wall of China. Reference any of these even briefly and people will go “Oh right, yeah – that’s kinda plausible”.

    Admittedly, no-one went to see it but that’s because, as established, it’s crap. I suppose it’s possible that it’s because they saw the trailer and thought “Walling up Scotland? How illogical and improbable. I won’t waste my time seeing that” but then I remember that “Meet The Spartans” became the number 1 film in the USA for a week and think “nah, never gonna happen”.

    As for the Terminator, I suggest you watch it again. You can quite clearly see scenes from the future when they’re shooting lasers from gun. Arnie even asks for a plasma rifle in the gun shop. Not that this is relevant. Even the whole time travel thing is a bit hokey – John Connor sent Kyle Reese back in time so that he could fuck his mother and become his dad. Wait – what? How does that work? It’s totally illogical but you buy it because it works in context and because you don’t get a chance to think about it until after you’ve got home. Then you’ve got a choice of either thinking “That’s just silly! What a crap film.” or “Whatever. It had robots and guns and was exciting and fun. I enjoyed it.”

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