In SF cinema, whether it’s the urban dystopia of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) or the re-wired worlds of The Matrix and Japanese anime, the future tends to be bleak but in the eighties, before the internet had emerged to cast its sophisticated cyberpunk web over the genre, for a while the future looked positively medieval. Witness the savage post-apocalyptic visions of The Road Warrior (1981), Escape from New York (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) or, even better, just go see Doomsday, Neil Marshall’s loving homage to all these daft eighties actioners and more.
Of course, British cinema has always been about nostalgia for the good old days, but this latest film from the director of Dog Soldiers (2002) and The Descent (2005) does not hark back to the courtly intrigue of the Middle Ages, to the grand era of Victorian Empire, or even to the plucky heroics of the World Wars – rather, it takes us right back to the eighties-style future of Marshall’s film-going youth, only with the action transplanted to an overcrowded London and a quarantined Scotland.
Back in 2008, the deadly Reaper virus rampages in a matter of days through the northernmost regions of the United Kingdom, rapidly wiping out those it infects. In a desperate effort to contain the spread of the disease, a high-security wall is built to cut off Scotland from the rest of the world. Amidst the ensuing riots and panic as the wall is sealed, young Eden Sinclair loses her mother, and an eye but at least, unlike almost everyone else, she gets out of the north alive.
Cut to 2035, and Eden (Rhona Mitra) is a tough agent for the Department of Domestic Security, with a neat bag of tricks in her false eye. When the Reaper virus resurfaces in the packed ghettos of London, she is sent back over the wall into the ‘hot zone’ to determine if, and how, anyone might have survived the last outbreak. She soon finds herself caught in between an anthropophagous gang of tattooed Glasgwegian ravers, a regressive band of highlands knights, and the machiavellian tactics of London’s parliamentary leadership. Still, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed is queen…
There’s mindless violence, gruesome splatter, off-the-scale performances, high-gear CG-free stuntwork, unabashedly gratuitous swearing, and mohawked cannibals in S&M gear (who big it up to songs by, you guessed it, Fine Young Cannibals). Brimming with exploitation antics, grindhouse sensibilities and, heh heh, exploding bunnies, Doomsday conjures a future thrown back to the dead-end styles and amoral excesses of the eighties and no future could be bleaker than that.
Largely played straight, it is less overt in its comic irony than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror (2007), but still no less deliriously funny – and when the pace of the action is so fast and furious, all the over-the-top silliness is merely the icing on the cake (or the severed head on the dashboard).