Last Friday, Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC opened on what I’m sure is an ungodly number of screens. Without reading a single review, I’m confident that this film will be another $100,000,000.00+ nail in the coffin of this writer/director’s checkered career of big budget hackery. The commercials for your little caveman movie want the world to remember you as the director of INDEPENDENCE DAY, Emmerich, but to me – oh-ho-ho – to me you will always be the cultural blight that shat out the American bastardization of GODZILLA. My contempt for your “art” is a seeping wound that never heals, a scab I will pick until worms feast on my bowels. Or on Matthew Broderick’s, whichever comes first.
The good news for you faithful fans of fearsome frolics is that you only have to hold your nose at the box office for a few more days until Neil Marshall’s DOOMSDAY opens this Friday. As confidently as I’ve assumed that 10,000 BC will suck a cueball through a key hole, I know in my coal black heart that DOOMSDAY will kick 31 flavors of ass. Because Neil Marshall is a god. Emmerich doesn’t deserve to have his last name spelled from the same alphabet as Neil Marshall.
Now please, prepare yourselves. I’m tabling my trademark cynicism in order to gush.
Marshall has only been on the big screen twice, both times for films that he wrote as well as directed, and both times he popped it deep into the cheap seats. Granted, two films isn’t nearly as impressive as, say, John Carpenter’s run from DARK STAR in 1974 to IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS in 1995 but compared to other horror directors that have started their careers in this century, Marshall is at the front of the pack. If not leading it.
To wit, for your werewolf dollar, Marshall’s DOG SOLDIERS (2002) is rock solid. Shot for less than THE PHANTOM MENACE’s donut budget, DOG SOLDIERS follows a squad of British Army soldiers through the Scottish Highlands as they search for a lost special ops squad whose special op, as it turns out, was to catch a werewolf. Things do not go as planned and hi-jinx ensue. The soldiers end up holed up in a shack in the middle of nowhere, with very few options and very many werewolves scratching at the doors. Great story, confident direction, and a solid cast spinning characters that you’d prefer that the monsters not kill for a change. And unlike other recent films like Wes Craven’s big budget werewolf suckfest, CURSED (2005), the werewolves in DOG SOLDIERS aren’t CGI. Their realism comes from the simple fact that they’re there. Way too often, Hollywood seems to forget how real real monsters can seem. (If any Hollywoodsmen are actually reading this, please feel free to file that bit of advice away for future reference. Put it under D for “duh.”)
In 2005, Marshall followed up with THE DESCENT. This happy little girl-power jaunt reminds me of an episode of SEX IN THE CITY; if by IN THE CITY you mean IN AN UNCHARTED CAVERN and if by SEX you mean BEING EATEN BY A RAVENOUS HORDE OF SLIMY, MUTANT BAT PEOPLE. Lord knows I mix those up often enough. With the possible exception of the ham-fisted metaphor of the main character, Sarah, being reborn as an ass-kicking Amazon out of a pool of clotted blood, we’re looking at another brilliantly crafted script with believable, likeable characters and REAL monsters. Rent the unrated DVD and watch it with the original, European ending that the American studios pussed out on.
Marshall has found a formula that works and he’s sticking with it. Take a group of people related in some way (a unit of soldiers/spelunking Spice Girls), strand them away from the comforts of civilization (in a shack/cavern), threaten them with a horrible demise that defies a comfortable explanation (being eaten by werewolves/ Bat Boy), and make a film not about the monsters but about how well the people facing those monsters cope.
Now, since my dairy-white ass isn’t nearly famous enough to rate a screener copy of DOOMSDAY I only have trailers to go on but it’s a fair bet we’re looking at another heapin’ helpin’ of that ol’ Marshall magic. This time, his group of related people is an entire populace infected with some sort of horrible plague that threatens to wipe out mankind. The seclusion are the walls built around said sick people by the rest of the world and the horrible demise is the almost certain, agonizing death that thousands of otherwise innocent human beings will suffer because their fellow man found it most expedient to turn their backs on them. The catch? Some of the sick people get better and get really pissed. They cobble together a bitter, post-punk society a la THE ROAD WARRIOR, united by the perfectly reasonable assumption that anyone on the healthy side of the wall is a right fuck what deserves to be eaten. So of course, now the incongruously hot Rhona Mitra has to venture into this predictably hostile 28 DAYS LATER meets LORD OF THE FLIES meets ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK scenario in order to do…something. Find a cure or some genetic Messiah or Oprah’s car keys, hell, I dunno. More importantly, I don’t care. Marshall is about to hit 3 for 3 and my local Cinemark is about to get another nine of my hard-earned dollars. Maybe even thirteen if I kowtow to their usurious snack pricing and get Red Vines.