Saturday, March 15, 2008

Friday Double Feature: Doomsday and Boy Eats Girl

Doomsday – 4.5/10 as a film, -5/10 for homophobia

On April 3rd (this year!), a virus breaks out in Scotland killing people at an incredible rate. The only solution the UK government has is to seal off Scotland and leave the people to die. 27 years later, England is suffering from massive unemployment and overcrowding and now the virus is breaking out in London. However human life has been spotted in quarantined Scotland. A special team is dispatched to go into the forbidden zone and return with a cure for the disease. Only the survivors don't feel like sharing.
Our heroine, Eden Sinclair, was air-lifted out of Scotland just as the gates are closing, but not before her eye was shot out by a panicked soldier. Now she's a star police officer with a tendency towards recklessness, but always records compromising moments with her removable bionic eye. She takes her crew into the forbidden zone where they've been told people have been reduced to eating each other. So the first thing that happens when they enter the zone is they run over a cow. When they stop to look, they find themselves surrounded by cows. Because with no one around to butcher them, their breeding was unchecked so Scotland now has fields filled with slow, dumb, unsuspecting cows that don't know enough to fear humans.
Which raises the question, why were people eating each other? If there were enough cows left to form a breeding population, you'd think person pate would have been a far-distant plan b. But that's the logic of the film. It's built on the premise of “Wouldn't it be cool if...” Normally I like those movies. They have a goofy, unrestrained charm. Plus, when creative people go balls-out after an idea, they usually create something notable. Not necessarily good, but the piece will have at least one moment that'll make you sit up and take notice. Doomsday doesn't have any moment like that primarily because the people making it aren't creative. Instead of a weird new vision of a post-apocalyptic world that grew up parallel to our own world (how about isolated towns with satellite discs and diesel generators keeping tabs on history's response to their situation?), we get a tired Mad-Max-esque personality cult fighting a group that's taken over an abandoned castle and returned to a medieval lifestyle. Strictly medieval by the way. No hint of steam-punk pretensions here. No attempts to ape modern life with old technology nor any attempt to streamline and improve old technology with modern knowledge either. It's like the heroes fell back in time and then got to use guns and karate against knights. Brilliant.
But maybe you're sensing a certain campy charm to it all. I'm sorry to disappoint, but even attempts to enjoy the film's absurdities are thwarted by the writer/director's uncanny melding of incoherence and incompetence. One example that illustrates the problem throughout: the leader of the cannibal cult takes the stage to address his followers. Loud, poppy music is playing and two pole-dancers are doing their thing. Then the music shifts to the can-can and a kickline of rotund, bearded Scots come out and start doing the can-can (or would it be a bear-bear?). At least, I think they do. It sounds like a funny idea, like a moment where the movie's taking the piss out of itself and maybe even mucking about with the objectification of the pole-dancers (whose various body parts are constantly cut to, but never the whole person herself). But it doesn't actually show you the kickline. It's just cut-cut-cut-ass-cut-cut-pout-cut-cut crowd goes wild. The director has made this thing that must be seen, that only exists to be seen, that is purely a visual gag, and doesn't show you it. And this happens throughout the movie. Fight scenes so aggressively edited that they look like they were spliced by a blender. You see people get hit, but you don't know how, by who or even who took the hit. There's a car chase sequence (right after the lovingly-crafted shots of the car itself, as though there's a car ad in the midst of the movie) where you almost never see the cars hit. The BMW (and they're careful to make sure you know it's a beemer) side-swipes a car, but the evidence of the collision vanishes quickly enough. In fact, even though the BMW is rammed repeatedly, you never see an actual hit. I guess it was a rental.
And on and on. People with no imagination imagining what would be cool. Slightly worse than staring at a blank wall for an equal period of time because you can't help but think they could have done something cool and simply chose not to.
Because they included homophobia. Which I have to note, would be remiss for not pointing out. The movie has a gimp. The movie has a gimp. Guy in a full-body leathersuit kept on a leash. He's supposed to be gay. It's never said he's gay, but he's marked out as sexually “other” and that means gay. Now the gimp isn't problematic on its own. He's introduced after the lead's been captured by the cannibal leader who has her tied up and beats her. The gimp, in that context, becomes an illustration of the devolution of sexuality and humanity in the forbidden zone--he's not depraved, his entire environment is. Later though, when the gimp resurfaces, he's tied, limbs spread, to the front of a truck during the chase scene. Again, just another part of a world that's slipped free of its moorings. However, one of the good guys takes a moment to shout, “You like pain? Then you'll love this,” before side-swiping the gimp's car and sending it into another crashed vehicle where you see the gimp get smashed before bursting into flame. And you see it all clearly. Everything else in the movie is cut too closely for you to see anything, but this they luxuriate over. And the guys in the audience behind me cheered. The only other time they reacted during the movie was when the car was unveiled (they “oohed” and “ahhed” so maybe my distaste at the obvious product placement means I'm just not part of the target demo). They knew what they just saw: the fag got his. And I know, “You're being too sensitive, you're reading too much into it.” No. You see it clearly unlike everything else in the movie and it's the only time a zinger is used during the chase scene. The movie thought this was okay. Remember, the good guys are fighting cannibals. How much “other” can you get? Yet that's not “other” enough. To qualify for special attention, to be notably deserving of death, the person had to be marked out as sexually “other.” That made it okay and that ideology, that logic that says some people are deserving of death and others aren't, that there are lower breeds that can be destroyed, is inherently evil. Remember, the guys behind me thought this was cool. It's not cool.

Boy Eats Girl – 8.5/10

I rented this movie for several reasons: I've been wanting to for a while, I wanted to have a Friday double feature to post about, and I wanted something to wash the taste of Doomsday out of my mouth. So I went for the horror/comedy zombie picture. There are only two things I'm a big sucker for in movies: werewolves and zombies. And this is a zombie pic with trailers for two really awful-looking werewolf films! Score! Plus it's an Irish film.
Did I say there are only two things I'm a big sucker for?
An Irish zombie horror comedy. I think I just wet my pants.
Nathan is in love with his long-time friend Jessica, but fate (aka Jessica's father) conspires against them meeting the night he plans to tell her how he feels. In a truly spectacular depression, he empties a bottle of whiskey, considers hanging himself... and through a bizarre but not untenable series of events sets off a zombie plague.
Despite the zombies, the movie's about teen angst and it portrays it well. The kids are all snarky, sex-obsessed and generally overreacting to everything around them, which is about how I remember high school too. The movie shines in the details. It gets the way kids lie about sex to each other and assault each others' reputations. It also avoids easy dichotomies. Yes, there are kids who are bullies and villains and they die horrible deaths. But there are also kids who are absolutely unsympathetic, they're archetypes, there to be hated and then die, and the movie breathes life into them, makes them somewhat sympathetic so that you're actually a little crushed when they bite it.
The zombie make-up is okay. Fast zombies, but since they're moved by a voodoo curse and freshly dead, that's not very annoying. The movie is very Irish—Catholic Church, snakes, music by Snow Patrol—but it's those particularities that make it charming. This movie was like eighty minutes of happy for me, I don't know what else to say about it.

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