Basically every review I read of this has started off by stating it’s a cross between…well, perm any three from Mad Max, Escape From New York, Aliens, I am Legend, 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, depending on how well-informed the writer is about the action and horror genres. That’s fair enough: there’s no denying that Marshall has chosen here to create a film that is as much as compilation of influences as anything, and this therefore falls short of his previous work, The Descent, which went places few recent horror films have gone. However, most reviews sniffily stop there or, worse still, engage in petty cinematic snobbery: witness Jeff Otto of ReelzChannel.com – I’m not going to do him the honor of linking to the piece – who says, “Not pre-screening this one was a smart move on Universal’s part. It has no need for critics because the people who will enjoy this movie are very unlikely to possess the cognitive skills or attention span to read a review anyway.” I came up with several witty rejoinders to that, but opt instead for the tried and tested one of, fuck you, Jeff Otto. For sometimes you don’t want something that pushes the boundaries of cinema; the films listed in the first paragraph are (mostly) classics, and if you’re going to steal from anywhere, steal from the best.
In the near future (next week, actually at the time of going to press), Glasgow falls prey to the Reaper virus, which is exactly what it sounds like. The government in London deal with the problem by building a 30-foot wall along the border and sealing off Scotland – which is basically the approach taken by the government to problems in Scotland since, oh, about 1707. [Hello, born there!] 30 years later, however, the virus breaks out in London, and all of a sudden, the information that people are still alive in Scotland, suggesting they found a cure, is now of more than academic interest. To get the cure, they send Eden (Mitra) up North, to find Kane (McDowell, appearing in about two scenes, then taking his salary and leaving), who might just have the solution. However, things do not go as planned, needless to say, not least because Glasgow is inhabited by nothing but psychopathic thugs with poor dress sense and bad skin, stuck in the past. So, no change, then. [Hello, not born there – East Coast Scotland, represent!]
It’s clear that Marshall has a strong interest in action-heroines, having not only directed The Descent but also written Killing Time. Mitra also has something of a track record, having been one of the live-action Lara Crofts for Eidos a few years back. Here, however, she comes across as more of a Kate Beckinsale wannabe – my first reaction when I saw the trailer was this it was Kate. That works better in Underworld or Resident Evil, where the setting gives us reason to believe that the central character has special powers of one kind or another; as a straight-up action heroine, Mitra is just not physical enough to convince. This may perhaps explain the limited amount of physical action she does; a fight against another woman warrior, appears to have been edited with a weed-whacker, but another, in which she goes one-on-one with an armored knight, is pretty decent.
It all builds to a monumental car-chase, though you have to suspend disbelief there, as apparently Bentley cars will start right out of the crate, even if they’ve been sitting there for thirty years. You can also plough them through an exploding bus, amongst a litany of other torments, and they’ll come out the other side with barely a scratch. Again, if you’re going to ground your film in the ‘real world’, admittedly a questionable concept given the plot synopsis above (and I haven’t even got to the more outrageous elements yet!), then mis-steps such as these should be avoided. They’ll just give the more moronic end of the critical fraternity – paging Jeff Otto – blunt objects with which to whack your film about the head, as they ride off on their high horse. They only bothered me slightly, since I was already in full-on disbelief suspension, and since the resulting car-chase was cheerfully destructive, I’m inclined to give it some slack.
There’s also a certain point at which it’s clear that Marshall is operating tongue in cheek: it may be the sign on the Glaswegian bus which reads ‘Out of Fucking Service’, or in the castle where Cane and his followers have regressed to medieval times, yet have left up another sign, this one saying ‘Gift Shop’. Or that two of the soldiers in Eden’s party are called Miller and Carpenter: the directors of Mad Max and Escape From New York being George Miller and John Carpenter, of course. Or the elaborately choreographed ritual of human flesh-eating, like an Archaos show [there’s an 80’s reference for you!], set to a song by punk icon Siouxsie and the Banshees. Though the immediately-preceding use of Fine Young Cannibals was, I admit, a bit much. Still, let go, don’t expect the atmosphere of The Descent – this is much closer in tone to Marshall’s preceding Dog Soldiers – and just enjoy the gloopy violence or slabs of black humour which pepper the film, and you’ll have a more than adequate time.
Dir: Neil Marshall
Stars: Rhona Mitra, Bob Hoskins, Craig Conway, Malcolm McDowell