With upcoming Hellboy director Neil Mashall’s second film, The Descent, building on the success of Dog Soldiers, it seemed like he was going from strength to strength. Surely his third film, Doomsday (2008), would follow the trend and be equally, if not more, successful?
Sadly not. It received mostly mixed reviews, did not perform well upon release and only just made more than its budget. It sits on a rating of 51% on Rotten Tomatoes, and only 47% from viewers. That said, despite it not being a commercial success, there are still lots of things about the film that would still translate well to a new vision of Hellboy.
The plot, for a start, is utterly bonkers and combines science-fiction action, much like Mad Max, with a heavy mix of medieval knights and the horror of a cannibalistic society. A killer virus known as the Reaper Virus infects Scotland and in response the government builds a wall, cutting it off from the rest of Great Britain. The quarantine works, but the rest of the world is abhorred by the extreme methods and cuts ties with the UK. This leads to the country collapsing into a dystopian society. Fast forward thirty years, following armed police discovering people in London infected with the virus, Prime Minister John Hatcher (Alexander Siddig) shares footage of apparent survivors in Scotland with his security chief, Captain Nelson (Bob Hoskins). Nelson orders a team into Scotland to find medical researcher Doctor Kane (Malcolm McDowell) who was working on a cure when the wall was built.
Rhona Mitra (who came to lots of people’s attention due to being one of the original Lara Croft models for Eidos’s promotions of the games) plays Eden Sinclair, the leader of the team, who was heavily based on Escape from New York’s Snake Plissken, right down to only having one real eye. Following in the footsteps of The Descent, Marshall wanted a feisty heroine. Sinclair was initially written with more comedic lines, but they were scaled back to make her more hardcore. On getting into Scotland, she and her team run afoul of a cannibalistic gang lead by Sol (Craig Conway) who want to use her as a way of breaking back into England and ushering in a golden age. With a few tweaks, this outlandish plot could easily be something the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence go up against.
READ MORE: Catch up on our Neil Marshall retrospectives
With a budget three times the size of his first two films, Doomsday was ambitious; perhaps too ambitious and bordering on over-complicated, but Marshall certainly delivered on the spectacle. The set pieces look phenomenal and the car chase sequence toward the end is superb. Marshall can certainly deliver action on a grand scale, but the plot is just too messy. Perhaps it’s for the best that he is not writing for Hellboy.
However, he reliably delivered stomach-churning horror and gore. Returning from his part in Dog Soldiers, Sean Pertwee reunited with Marshall as Doctor Talbot, one of Sinclair’s team. He is captured by Sol’s gang and sacrificed in a truly graphic way. He is burned alive and then his body is feasted upon by the gang and it is truly unpleasant to watch. Given that Hellboy is meant to be far darker than the previous incarnations, it is possible that Marshall will bring his level of gore to his version.
Doomsday is one of those “guilty pleasure” films. There are those who just find it silly and derivative of the films that inspired it, such as Excalibur, The Warriors and A Boy and his Dog. But if you are prepared to not take it seriously and enjoy it for the visual event that it is, then it is an over the top grindhouse epic.