Remember when I first started You Have Been Watching? I said I would look at all Scottish films no matter what their artistic worth? It’s time I put that to the test. This week’s film is Neil Marshall’s Doomsday, and it is without doubt the trashiest film I’ve looked at so far. But it’s as entertaining as a bag of caffeinated monkeys.
I’ll sketch the outline before colouring in with detail. There has been a deadly viral breakout in Scotland, the Reaper virus, and it is one that has no cure. So the UK government decides to cut the country off and erects a modern day Hadrian’s Wall which stretches round the whole coastline. Scotland is cut off, left to die, and forgotten until the virus appears in London decades later. We are then told that there are now signs of life in Scotland, which means survivors, and possibly a cure. A crack team (it’s always a crack team) of soldiers are sent in to Scotland to bring the cure home.
Doomsday is a cult movie fan’s dream. It stars the original Lara Croft Rhona Mitra, Doctor Who/Wurzel Gummidge’s boy Sean Pertwee, local lad Martin Compston, Adrian Lester, serial chewer of scenery David O’Hara and a couple of cameos from Bob Hoskins and Malcolm McDowell. Every one involved understands just what sort of film they’re in and acts accordingly. There are some huge performances going on, with McDowell in particular ramping up the Shakespearean flourishes. Mitra is the film’s hero, and she’s perfect in the role. I’ve a feeling that Marshall told her to watch Mel Gibson in Mad Max and asked her to capture his style. She’s certainly the boss in a group where there are plenty of Alpha males ready to challenge her. Marshall is a director who always writes strong roles for women, and Doomsday is no exception. It wears its influences with pride. The Mad Max trilogy, The Warriors, Excalibur, Escape From New York (Mitra’s Eden Sinclair is a female Snake Plissken in look and attitude) countless zombie and cannibal movies all have homage paid to them.
The film is slow to begin with as exposition is given in detail, but once the team get to Glasgow everything kicks into a different gear that doesn’t let up until the credits roll. We meet Sol and his cannibalistic tribe of steam punks who have managed to survive the virus on a diet of human flesh and a penchant for 80s pop, (Fine Young Cannibals! You see what he did there?). There are some spectacularly violent and graphic scenes before what’s left of our heroes escape to the country only to find an Arthurian nightmare, one where Malcom McDowell is king, and where more people will be decapitated before the inevitable escape in a top of the range Bentley. Of course.
There are some great set pieces. The early shots of the infected Scotland, the building of the wall, driving into Glasgow, Sol’s ‘palace’ and one of the best car chases of recent years. This is a trashy film, but it’s a beautiful one. Marshall is one of the UK’s better film makers, and Doomsday has its tongue firmly lodges in its cheek. Other Marshall movies are the low-budget werewolf film Dog Soldiers, the terrifying, particularly for a claustrophobic, The Descent, and last year saw the release of his Roman epic Centurion in which he gets to kill lots more Scots. I’ll talk about Centurion in the future, but, as with Doomsday, it’s a hoot.
It would be an understatement to say that Doomsday is not for everyone, but it will be for more people than you may expect. The film doesn’t stand up to too much inspection, but if you’ve an hour and a half to spare then switch your mind into neutral, relax, and enjoy the ride. This is the trailer:
At the time when Mark Millar, the comic book writer whose Kick Ass was the source material for one of the best films of last year, claims that Scottish film is not diverse enough, it is important to remind people that film that has a Scottish context doesn’t have to be about alcoholic fathers and violent sons, and that there are film-makers who think outside the box marked ‘gritty and urban’. What’s interesting is that, with the notable exception of Richard Jobson, the film-makers that look at Scotland through a different lens are often from outside Scotland originally. Millar makes a relevant point. There is not enough diversity in Scottish film, and a director such as Neil Marshall, or Shane Meadows, show us just what can be done, often with relatively small budgets. We can’t be serious all the time. Where’s the fun in that?