Posts Tagged ‘Rhona Mitra’

One of the more interesting phenomena in cinema is when power and success goes to a young director’s head somewhat, with the results generally being interesting, if possibly not that person’s best work: the ensuing films are ambitious, startlingly off-the-wall, but also frequently overblown and audience-unfriendly. It happened to Spielberg with 1941, it happened to Edgar Wright with Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and – I recently discovered – it happened to Neil Marshall with the 2008 film Doomsday.

This was the (relatively) big-budget follow-up to Dog Soldiers and The Descent, a couple of pared-down but effective and well-received horror movies about people going off to the woods and being jumped on by monsters. The events of Doomsday take place on a wider canvas. When a lethal and highly-contagious viral outbreak takes place in present-day Glasgow (the exact cause is not delved into, but I expect someone tried deep-frying something they shouldn’t have), panic and violence rapidly spread. The British government quickly order the construction of an armoured wall separating Scotland from the rest of the UK, and leave the country to its own dark fate (all this, by the way, without any bickering over referendum dates or wrangling about a possible ‘third option’ – food for thought there for Alex Salmond, methinks).

Anyway, in the year 2035 Scotland is a barren, desolate, uninviting wasteland (insert your own joke here), while the aftereffects of the catastrophe have transformed England into a decaying, repressive autocracy, ruled over by grasping crypto-fascists like the prime minister (Siddig el Fadil) and his advisor (David O’Hara), and policed by security chief Nelson (Bob ‘Oskins) and his top agent, Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra). When there is another outbreak of the virus, this time in central London, disaster looms. But there is one slim hope: there are signs that human life has survived north of the border, in which case they must have discovered a cure. Sinclair and a crack team of squaddies are loaded into a couple of APCs forthwith and packed off to the ruins of Glasgow in search of a top virologist (Malcolm McDowell), left behind there during the quarantine. Sinclair’s orders are clear: come back with the antidote or not at all!

Doomsday is one of those movies where you can spend a lot of time thinking ‘I’ve seen this bit before… and this bit… and this bit…’ While the opening scenes clearly owe a debt to the 28 … Later movies, as the film progresses the influence of John Carpenter (particularly, Escape from New York) and George Miller (Mad Max, rather than Babe) becomes rather more dominant – though to be fair the film openly acknowledges its sources by naming a couple of minor characters after the directors in question. To begin with, at least, the film manages to take all these elements and mash them together to make something with a semblance of originality to it, and the first act of the film is rather engaging. It reminded me most of all of the original Cursed Earth comic strip from the British comic 2000AD, and it strikes me that the producers of the new Judge Dredd movie have really missed a trick in not getting Marshall involved in the production: on the strength of this film, he has exactly the right kind of sensibility for it.

Possibly best not to let him write the script, though: the first-act set-up is perfectly serviceable here, but as the film goes on it increasingly falls to bits, with elements included seemingly on a whim or because Marshall thought they would look cool, and key elements of the plot not properly articulated. Most fundamentally, the driver for the narrative here is the search for the cure – and when Sinclair finally catches up with Macdowell’s character, he rather vaguely waffles on about how ‘natural selection’ has given him and his followers ‘immunity’ to the virus. That, I think you’ll agree, is a stroke of good luck, given he’s an expert on viruses and all (even if it makes sense, which I strongly doubt). We’re talking about a Maguffin, obviously, but does it have to be such a blatant one?

One gets a sense that narrative cohesion was less of a priority for the film-makers than the startling excesses which run through this film from beginning to end – right at the start, the tone is set when someone gets shot, but they’re not just shot: their hand is messily blown off. Dismemberments and decapitations are frequent, rabbits get blown to pieces, well-known British actors are barbecued alive and eaten, and so on. (To say nothing of the scene with the naked blonde packing a pump-action shotgun.) I don’t have a problem with any of this stuff per se, but it does make Doomsday very difficult to take seriously as an actual SF action movie rather than a lurid piece of exploitation junk.

Matters are not helped by the fact that the senior members of the cast (and here I’m thinking of Hoskins and Macdowell) don’t get a great deal of screen time. (Adrian Lester is lumbered with a curiously underwritten role as the main character’s sidekick.) The bulk of carrying this movie falls on the shoulders of Rhona Mitra, who is agreeable enough to look upon, but not conspicuously equipped (on the strength of this performance) with either acting ability or screen presence. She is basically playing an undistinguished exponent of that tedious mainstay of the dimbo SF/horror action genre, the Ass-Kicking Babe – much like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld and its sequels, Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil and its spawn, or Sanaa Lathan in Alien vs Predator.

Those last two examples should be setting alarm bells ringing in the heads of right-minded folk, as they are both part of the oeuvre of the king of the trashy mid-budget genre movie, Paul W.S. Anderson. Even though I wasn’t much impressed with the way Doomsday unravelled throughout its length, eventually becoming not much more than a lumpy pastiche of its sources, I am still hesitant to describe it as basically resembling a Paul W.S. Anderson film, for fear of sounding too harsh. The fact remains that it does – an unusually imaginative and well-mounted Paul W.S. Anderson movie, to be sure, but still part of the canon. I suppose that if Anderson himself was responsible I’d be praising it as a great step forward – but he wasn’t, Neil Marshall was, and as a result Doomsday, though fairly entertaining, is inevitably a bit of a disappointment.

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