Say what you will about writer/director Neil Marshall's bloody, bleak Doomsday, but as follow-ups to successful, break-out films go, it's certainly unpredictable. Marshall, who turned heads with Dog Soldiers and grabbed moviegoers around the world by their throats with The Descent, is back with this crazed cinematic cassoulet, a go-for-broke thrill ride that mashes the gas pedal and doesn't let up until the credits hit the screen. (Or as Marshall describes it in the commentary track, "a post-apocalyptic action movie with an edge.")
It's 2037 and the United Kingdom has been ravaged by the Reaper virus, a particularly nasty pathogen that renders folks not unlike those pustule-ridden, supremely aggressive types populating Danny Boyle's now-iconic 28 Days Later. The government discovers, after a period of relative calm, that London is being threatened by an outbreak of Reaper, which leads the prime minister, Hatcher (Alexander Siddig), to enlist the services of iron-willed soldier Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra), and a small team of medical and military specialists to head into Glasgow, a forlorn wasteland still considered a "hot zone" for the Reaper virus. Once there, the team must find the mysterious Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell) and return, within 48 hours, to London with a cure.
Of course, once the team infiltrates the walled-off city of Glasgow, everything goes to hell very quickly and people start dying excruciating deaths. (We're talking burning, cannibalism and dismemberment.) Sinclair must keep everyone together long enough -- even going so far as to fend off a persistent, bloodthirsty band of marauders -- to find a cure and save what's left of humanity.
Part of me wants to reveal all the balls-out twists Marshall has in store for viewers and part of me thinks that Doomsday is so much more fucked-up fun if you have no idea what's coming next; I'll err on the side of modesty and preserve the nasty surprises. I can see why this film stumbled at the box office ($10 million earned against a $30 million budget) -- it's a very, very difficult work to classify. I wasn't kidding about "cinematic cassoulet": There are elements of the Mad Max films, Hostel, Blade Runner, Escape From New York, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, 28 Days Later and even a dash of Braveheart and Gladiator, just for good measure. It's kinetic, uncompromising, gory to the point of nauseating and unrelentingly brutal -- certainly a hard R and, frankly, I had to double-check a couple times that I wasn't watching the unrated version of the film (which clocks in four minutes longer).
Doomsday is, at times, totally off the rails and completely surreal and the ending strives for pathos it doesn't fully earn, but these are minor quibbles. When Marshall turns the volume all the way up to 11, lets his freak flag fly and doles out the gut-churning violence like some kind of mad chef, it's probably one of the weirdest, nastiest and most adrenaline-pumping flicks you'll see this year.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (for both the rated and unrated versions of the film) is spotless, with all the rain-slicked, blood-soaked and flame-scorched scenes coming across suffering from nary a trace of print damage or distortion. Marshall likes to keep the camera moving -- with blinding pans, whiplash-inducing cuts and insane angles -- but there's no motion blur or other flaw to distract from all the flying limbs, speeding cars and medieval torture.
Watch out that your home theater speakers don't burst into flames during one of the myriad action sequences, which makes the Dolby Digital 5.1 track (for both the rated and unrated versions of the film) work overtime to convey dialogue, score and all those sickeningly detailed sound effects sound crisp, clear and most of all, loud. This is one to save for cranking up when the missus or the girlfriend is out of the house -- it sounds terrific. An optional Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track is available on the rated version only, but optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are included for both versions of Doomsday.
The supplements are primarily concerned with the almost overwhelming technical challenges that Doomsday doubtless presented the filmmakers, but Marshall still finds time to sit for a commentary track, along with cast members Sean Pertwee (Dr. Talbot), Darren Morfitt (Dr. Stirling), Rick Warden (Chandler) and Les Simpson (Carpenter) (the track only plays with the unrated version). It's a relaxed, chummy track that covers the nuts and bolts of making Doomsday, its tone and the film's graphic nature -- it's a kick to hear the actors realizing just how disgusting the finished product is.
The remaining bonus features are available whether you select the rated or unrated version of the film. The 17 minute, 23 second featurette "Anatomy of Catastrophe: Civilization on the Brink" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) details what went into creating the post-apocalyptic world; the eight minute, 32 second featurette "The Visual Effects and Wizardry of 'Doomsday'" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) explores precisely what its title says it does and the 20 minute, nine second featurette "Devices of Death: Guns, Gadgets and Vehicles of Destruction" (presented in anamorphic widescreen) catalogs all the fun toys the production got to play with.
Doomsday is, at times, totally off the rails and completely surreal and the ending strives for pathos it doesn't fully earn, but these are minor quibbles. When writer/director Neil Marshall turns the volume all the way up to 11, lets his freak flag fly and doles out the gut-churning violence like some kind of mad chef, it's probably one of the weirdest, nastiest and most adrenaline-pumping flicks you'll see this year. Recommended.