Thursday, November 29, 2007

Doomed

Directed by Michael Su, 2007

Doomed is a strange melange of styles. Whether or not that's deliberate is unclear.

When zombie movies meet video games, good things can happen. Junk was a grand movie in that style; I cheered the hero on as he fought his way to the final boss. A few years later we saw Resident Evil competently fit a videogame into zombie movie conventions. Uwe Boll didn't even try to choose a style; he just slipped game footage into House of the Dead.

But even Boll acknowledged what he was doing. Doomed purports to use reality television as its undead framework and although the Battle Royale homage is evident, there's an unmistakable videogame feel that undercuts it all. Each human/zombie fight, for instance, is halted by constant freezeframes with a list of type of shot and points earned. Body shot: 350 points! Choke hold: 150 points! Kill shot: 1000 points! I'm friendly to the styles birthed from videogames and cinema mating. And I certainly respect an editing choice that doubles the length of your action sequences without additional fight choreography. But this didn't gel for me. I wanted the irony and spirit of Series 7 with the dire psychology of Battle Royale, and neither is in Doomed.

There's a zombie movie tradition you'll see in films from about 1960-1988 in which zombie hordes-- usually on an island-- dress identically. It's a cheap way to reuse extras and costumes. I've never been a fan, because when you depersonalize the zombie that much it might as well be a robot, alien, or other impersonal enemy. Beyond the budgetary rationale I've always suspected that homogenous zombie hordes arise from xenophobia as well, as in the 1930s and 1940s movies with black or foreign zombies threatening white heroes. Romero reclaimed this tendency to a gloriously buffoonish extreme: the costumes on his zombie hordes (ballerinas, clowns, cops, Hare Krishnas, doctors, cheerleaders, the spectrum of humanity) imply defeated individuality. And that's a horrifying prospect. Acknowledging that each flesh-eating creature was once a human being is a crucial element to zombies. I'm rarely moved by films that use them en masse.

But this movie does. Picture, if you will, a lovely tropical island (named Isla de Romero) upon which teams of reality show contestants (formerly criminals, I gather) are deposited. Money is at stake. Very shortly, so are their lives. Years ago on the island a military super soldier test failed and the island was nuked. The undead test remnants hunt our contestants. Like a videogame, caches of weapons and water are hidden at convenient intervals. Also like a videogame, entering a dangerous setting was signaled by the distant growl of generic zombie which would grow louder as combat neared. Pick any team to root for; all are equally descipable and portrayed by equally amateur performers. Teamwork and criminality alike are rewarded by death with no apparent purpose behind the characters chosen to grace the screen for longer than the others. In the end, I gleaned no lesson for or against reality television, its participants, or any individual character's choices. Perhaps I was meant to root for the nameless zombie hordes.

Zombie explanation: A super soldier program, insufficiently destroyed by nuclear bomb decades before, now cultivated for reality television/prisoner execution.

Contribution to the zombie canon: One more baby step in the direction of games and movies coming together to destroy everything good about each other.

Favorite moment: I felt pretty sure I knew who the heroine was. Then she died meaninglessly. I always appreciate a bit of misdirection, particularly when I'm feeling smug about a movie's transparency.

2 comments:

PFabian said...

I'm going to have to track this one down when I get home.
Have you seen Black Sheep yet? I know technically it isn't a zombie film so much as a... well... "Weresheep" movie, but it's entertaining and I think you'd like it and I'd be interested to hear what you think.
Hello from New Zealand, by the way ;).

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