Director/Screenplay – Neil Marshall, Producers – Benedict Carver & Steven Paul, Photography – Sam McCurdy, Music – Tyler Bates, Visual Effects Supervisor – Hal Couzens, Visual Effects – Double Negative (Supervisor – Mark Michaels) & The Senate Visual Effects (Supervisor – Simon Leech), Special Effects Supervisor – Mickey Kirsten, Special Effects Miniatures – Artem (Supervisor – Mike Kelt), Makeup Effects Design – Paul Hyett, Production Design – Simon Bowles. Production Company – Rogue Pictures/Intrepid Pictures/Crystal Sky Productions/Scion Films/Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird Dritte GmbH & Co. KG.
Rhona Mitra (Major Eden Sinclair), Bob Hoskins (Chief Bill Nelson), Adrian Lester (Sergeant Norton), David O’Hara (Michael Canaris), Craig Conway (Sol), Alexander Siddig (Prime Minister John Hatcher), Malcolm McDowell (Dr Marcus Kane), MyAnna Buring (Cally Kane), Darren Morfitt (Dr Ben Stirling), Rick Warden (Chandler), Nora-Jane Noone (Read), Sean Pertwee (Dr Talbot), Les Simpson (Carpenter), Chris Robson (Miller), Lee-Anne Liebenberg (Viper), Emma Cleasby (Katherine Sinclair)
In 2008, the deadly Reaper Virus ravages Glasgow. The British government reacts by creating a vast wall that locks all of Scotland off, abandoning the infected inside. Anyone who attempts to escape is shot. Thereafter the infected are forgotten about and soon all trace of life disappears. In 2035, panic suddenly ensues in government circles when an outbreak of Reaper Virus occurs in London. Major Eden Sinclair, herself an orphan taken from Scotland just before the wall was closed, is given the assignment of leading a unit over the wall. It is revealed that three years ago life was detected in some of the cities and it is reasoned that if people survived then a cure for the Reaper Virus must exist. Sinclair is told not to return if they are unable to find the cure within 48 hours. She and her team of soldiers head into Glasgow, searching for the research material of Dr Marcus Kane, a scientist left behind who was seeking a cure. They quickly come under attack by gangs of murderous crazies. With most of the team slaughtered and their vehicles and equipment destroyed, Eden and a handful of others try to survive in the anarchic wasteland.
British director Neil Marshall is one of the most worthwhile directors to come to the forefront of the 00s horror wave. Marshall first emerged with the low-budget werewolf film Dog Soldiers (2002) and then had a word-of-mouth hit with the subterranean horror film The Descent (2005). Doomsday was Neil Marshall’s third film. Next up for Marshall was the non-genre historical film Centurion (2010), the Bad Seed episode of Tales of Halloween (2015), the reboot of Hellboy (2019) and the witch persecution film The Reckoning (2020). Marshall has also produced the horror film Dark Signal (2016) and the reboot of tv’s Lost in Space (2018- )
With Doomsday, Neil Marshall reminds very much of what Danny Boyle did with 28 Days Later (2002). In 28 Days Later, Boyle created a film consisting of elements borrowed from other films, in particular Day of the Triffids (1962) and Day of the Dead (1985). Likewise, Doomsday feels like a film where Neil Marshall has decided to have fun, paying homage to the films he grew up with. Much of Doomsday is construed as homage to John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) and George Miller’s Mad Max 2 (1981).
From Escape from New York, Marshall takes the image of the walled-off part of the country where a tough soldier/mercenary is given orders to go over the wall into the anarchic ruins of a city and must fight through the crazies abandoned there and return with something of vital importance, all within a 24/48 hour timeframe. There is also a good deal taken from Mad Max 2 – of the wasteland of mohawked crazies and in particular the hell-for-leather road chase sequence that climaxes the film, which Marshall has more than clearly modelled on the climactic scenes of Mad Max 2. (Marshall even includes characters named Carpenter and Miller after either film’s director).
At times, it also feels as though Neil Marshall has been given an assignment by his producers to go away and make a copy of recent hits like 28 Days Later – the opening plague outbreak sequences – and Children of Men (2006) – the image of a dystopian future Britain, filled with casual grim ultra-violence as much on the part of the good guys as the bad guys.
The film becomes a mash-up of styles upon Neil Marshall’s part. About the point that Rhona Mitra and the remaining survivors escape from the city – aboard a steam-train, no less – and arrive at a castle where everybody seems to be behaving like a Mediaeval re-enactment guild, including a knight riding about in full plate armour, there is a WTF quality to the film where you wonder just where Neil Marshall is going with everything. The latter half of the film feels as though Marshall has thrown whatever he felt like into the mix, more to indulge his love of certain types of genre and images – steam-trains, Mediaeval jousting, Mad Max 2-styled road races – than he has necessarily been following a coherent plot.
The plot undergoes several abrupt changes of tone and eventually becomes sprawling in trying to cater to all these elements. This does occasionally afford some striking imagery – some magnificent wide angled shots sweeping across the Scottish Highlands, the beautiful image of a knight on a horse in armour standing guard on a beach as the sun sets behind the castle across the bay. Although about the time that Rhona Mitra opens a crate in the bunker and finds a black Bentley Continental with a full tank of gas and in perfectly polished condition as though it has just come from the showroom floor, Marshall clearly signals that what he is serving up to us is not meant to be taken too seriously.
Neil Marshall keeps the film going at a satisfyingly full tilt pace, serving up wall-to-wall mindless violence and frequent splatter. There is a genuine eeriness to the night journey in the APCs through the ruins of Glasgow. There is something here of James Cameron’s long drawn-out entry into the alien lair in Aliens (1986) – one where a team of confidant, highly armed soldiers are rapidly emasculated and stripped of their assurance. In a matter of minutes, the team are attacked by shadowy, half-glimpsed figures of mohawked crazies and both APCs dramatically totalled. One sits startled, thinking that it is less than a quarter of the way into the film and most of the team has been massacred and the rest stripped of their armaments – what next? (Indeed, Marshall’s next film Centurion had almost exactly the same plot of a group of tough military pros being reduced to fighting with their bare hands in a brutal battle for survival against barbaric people from Scotland). Marshall climaxes the film on a rip-roaring, full-tilt Mad Max 2 styled road chase sequence that proves incredibly exhilarating. In terms of the action sequences that Marshall serves up, along with his none-too-serious genre homages, Doomsday is one of the more unpretentiously enjoyable films I have seen in some time.
Doomsday also welcomely gives full screen stature to one of the most beautiful actresses in the world – Rhona Mitra. Mitra has exquisitely elegant cheekbones and a posh accent that can send exciting things up and down a man’s spine no matter what she says. She had previously been stuck in bit parts in films such as Hollow Man (2000), Get Carter (2000) and The Number 23 (2007), with only lead roles in sporadic B genre films like Beowulf (1999), Highwaymen (2003), Skinwalkers (2006) and Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), as well as an ongoing role in tv’s The Practice (1997-2004) and Boston Legal (2004-9) – one where the writing team clearly had no idea what to do with her. Here, buffed and trained for the fight sequences, while maintaining an intently humourless expressionless, she makes for a fine action heroine. Especially good is a scene in an arena where she takes on (and defeats) a knight in plate armour with no more than her bare hands.