It used to be that the apocalypse was strictly B-movie material; genre directors like George Miller, John Carpenter and James Cameron made their bones helming low-budget sci-fi action movies that imagined dystopian futures populated by killer robots, one-eyed anti-hereos and gas-hoarding motorcycle psychos who dressed as if they were attending a never-ending S&M party. Lately, though, the end of days has become a big business for mainstream Hollywood. Last December saw the release of Will Smith's last-man-on-Earth blockbuster I Am Legend and later this year, John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winner The Road will march into theatres just in time for awards season. (Because nothing says Oscar like babies being roasted on spits!) Even television is getting into the act: The History Channel recently scored huge ratings with the documentary Life After People, which informed viewers that, in humanity's absence, house pets would turn feral and the Hoover Dam would probably collapse...but not for a decade or so, which gives any survivors plenty of time to get to higher ground.
So how's a B-movie director supposed to compete with all these A-list apocalypses? Well, if you're Neil Marshall, you write and direct a film that looks and plays like a greatest-hits reel of every Cannon Films or Avco Embassy Pictures production ever made. The title of his gleefully derivative picture is Doomsday, but it could also be called The Road Warrior Escapes from Scotland 28 Days Later than The Omega Man.
Doing her best Kurt Russell-by-way-of-Angelina Jolie impression, Rhona Mitra stars as the superbly named Eden Sinclair, a tougher-than-leather soldier girl in England circa 2035 who has been tasked with an impossible mission (her favorite kind). Three decades ago, a deadly virus swept through Scotland, decimating the population and scaring the English government enough that they decided to wall off the entire northern part of the island. Although this solved the problem in the short term, the disease inevitably returns, this time in heavily populated London. Having recently learned that there are still survivors living behind the wall, the government assumes that a cure must have been discovered, perhaps by the mysterious Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell). Eden and an elite squad of soldiers are dispatched to enter the long-abandoned hot zone and find this vaccine before the virus turns London into a ghost town.
Marshall scored a major critical (though not commercial) hit with the superb horror movie The Descent, so expectations were high for his follow-up feature. As it turns out, they may have been too high. If The Descent was a primal scream of a film, Doomsday is more like a boozy laugh. It's sloppy, chaotic and profoundly silly, with little of the discipline Marshall brought to his previous film. If you're in the right mood, though, it's also hugely entertaining. There's no pretense or artistic ambition on display here, just lots of explosions, bloodshed and hot gals (and guys) dressed in the very best post-apocalyptic leather fashions. Mitra's swaggering, tongue-in-cheek performance sets the tone for the rest of the film, which zips merrily along like the gleaming sports car Eden acquires just in time for a climactic Mad Max-style highway chase. (Special mention has to go to Craig Conway, who tears into the juicy role of Mohawk-sporting bad guy Sol with rock-star gusto.) In the event of the actual apocalypse, I'd want Eden Sinclair riding shotgun alongside Sarah Connor and Snake Plissken.