Director/Screenplay – Tony Giglio, Based on the Videogame Doom by ID Software, Producers – Jeffrey Beach, Ogden Gavanski & Phillip Roth, Photography – Alexander Krumov, Music – Frederik Wiedmann, Visual Effects – Cinemotion (Supervisor – Victor Trichkov), Special Effects Supervisor – Nikolay Fartunkov, Creature Effects – Autonomous FX (Designer – Jason Collins), Production Design – Kess Bonnet. Production Company – di Bonaventura Pictures/Battle Mountain Films/Universal 1440 Entertainment.
Amy Manson (Lieutenant Joan Dark), Dominic Mafham (Dr Malcolm Betruger), Luke Allen-Gale (Dr Bennett Stone), James Weber Brown (Captain Hector Savage), Louis Mandylor (Chaplain Glover), Clayton Adams (Winslow), Nina Bergman (Private Carlie Corbin), Katrina Nare (Veronica), Amer Chadha-Patel (Rance), Jemma Moore (Li), Hari Dhillon (Dr Kahn), Gavin Brocker (Harry), Chidi Ajufo (Akua), Arkie Reese (Tarek)
At a UAC laboratory in Nevada, Dr Malcolm Betruger tests out a portal that will allow instantaneous teleportation between Earth and a research station on Mars’s moon Phobos. The first subject emerges changed but Betruger insists the process is so safe he will be the next to go through the portal. A deployment of UAC marines commanded by Lieutenant Joan Dark is sent to the Phobos station. They land but receive no answer from the facility and enter to find dead bodies everywhere. In rapid course, they are attacked by zombified members of the station staff and then what they name ‘demons’ – creature able to blast fire. As the marine complement is decimated, they encounter Betruger and realise that his experiments have unleashed something monstrous.
Doom (1993), created by ID Software, was a videogame changed the face of gaming. Doom had a simple premise – a nameless marine has to move through various levels of a facility, picking up assorted weapons along the way and eliminating the creatures he encounters. What revolutionised gaming was Doom’s use of what became known as The First Person Shooter perspective where the player’s point-of-view was through the eyes of the marine – what one saw on screen were monsters coming at you and a pair of hands that would wield weapons to despatch them. Initially distributed free, the game took off in a big way and later had five follow-up versions and releases to various platforms, plus was designed so that players could create their own add-on modules and it could be played between multiple players online or over a network. The First Person Shooter concept subsequently became an industry standard.
Doom had previously been filmed once before as Doom (2005) starring Karl Urban as the marine and with Dwayne Johnson is a rare bad guy role, although this is poorly regarded by fans as a watering down of the game. The film rights were retained by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, the producer of the Transformers films among many others. A sequel to the 2005 film was written back not long after by Tony Giglio who eventually persuaded Universal to make this direct-to-dvd release after showing the studio the sale numbers for the first film. di Bonaventura co-produces the film with Phillip Roth, a low-budget sf/action director of the 1990s with sf/action hybrids such as Apex (1994), Digital Man (1995), Darkdrive (1996), Total Reality (1997) and New Alcatraz/Boa (2002), among others and a prolific producer since then.
The surprise about Doom: Annihilation is that for a film that gives all the impression of being no more than a throwaway dvd release, it gets the essence of Doom the game far more effectively than the 2005 film did on a much bigger budget. The film is not too concerned with connection to the 2005 film, although with a slight continuity stretch (the first film was set on Mars, this sets action on Phobos just like in the game) it could actually act as a prequel – here we see the beginnings of the teleportation experiments and the uncovery of the alien artifacts (elements that were introduced in the 2005 film but do not appear in the game). Like the 2005 film, this opts for science-fictional explanations rather than having the creatures come from Hell – although there is one scene where Louis Mandylor’s chaplain tosses the demons/Hell explanation around and this is dismissed – but drops the genetic experiments with alien DNA that were offered up in the 2005 film.
The film pays a good deal of fanservice to the game – there are all the weapons options from knife, handgun to machine-guns (one of the troupe displays the shotgun option but oddly never gets to use it, and we get nothing of the chaingun or the rocket launcher). The film wheels out fan favourites like the chainsaw and the climactic scenes where Amy Manson goes into action with the BFG (which she takes time to spell out to us means “Big Fucking Gun”).
There are other cute in-references like the blue, red and yellow keys, and the drums of radioactive waste that detonate when hit. Just like the game, the menaces encountered get tougher the further down the levels one goes – at first just the zombified/alien possessed dead and then the fire-blasting demons. I was disappointed we never got to meet any of the fire-breathing blob figures, although the final scene of the film is a slingshot ending that hints at something else emerging through the portal.
Once it gets its detachment of marines landed on Phobos, Doom: Annihilation gets down to the business of being a fast and furious monster shoot-up – just like the game. It is clear the film has been made on a lesser budget – the only recognisable name in the cast is Louis Mandylor. Nevertheless, Tony Giglio does great things with the sets and delivers some reasonable visual and creature effects. The script could have done with some more explanation as it is not too clear between the teleportation experiments and reference to pre-Sumerian inscriptions where exactly the creatures come from.
In essence though, without the videogame pedigree Doom: Annihilation is no more than a copy of Aliens (1986) with marines venturing into a station on a deserted planet and shooting up a nest of aliens. Tony Giglio even tips his hand in the scenes where the marines are preparing to go into action that consciously evokes the same scene in Aliens, while the scenes emerging from cryo-sleep (called crypto-sleep whatever that might mean) and sitting bitching around a mess table consciously remind of similar scenes in Alien (1979).
Director Tony Giglio has previously made the cute animal film Soccer Dog: The Movie (1999), the war film In Enemy Hands (2004), the Jason Statham action film Chaos (2005), the Backwoods Brutality film Timber Falls (2007) and S.W.A.T.: Under Siege (2017). He has also written the screenplays for Death Race 2 (2010), Arena (2011), Death Race 3: Inferno (2012), Johnny Frank Garrett’s Last Word (2016) and Death Race: Beyond Anarchy (2018).