Neil Marshall movies are like best-sellers, like Dan Brown, for example. You know what to expect, yet it’s a fun ride till it lasts. He is the best of B-movies. Now, I have used the moniker B-movies not in a derogatory sense, but in a sense that it underlines a particular taste. I know people who revel on movies like this (from the ‘Saw’ movies to ‘Resident Evil’ films, and everything in between.). That’s what they call a cult following, don’t they? In this context, Marshall is sharp, on the edge.
One of the features of B-grade, action, exploitation, adult horror films, which proliferated in the 1970s is super heroine, a tough as nail femme fatale, in movies like ‘Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,’ ‘I Spit On Your Grave,’ and numerous others. In the 1990s Milla Jovovich updates the images for the today’s audience, most famously in 'Resident Evil'. Other followed: Rose McGowan in ‘Planet Terror’ and Kate Beckinsale in ‘Underworld’.
Now, you look at a Neil Marshall picture, you see the same template: The girl power. (I haven’t seen his first feature ‘Dog Soldiers’, so no comments on that one.) ‘The Descent’, his second feature which earned him name and fame and a few awards, has a all woman cast. Recently, a sequel has been released, directed by someone else. ‘Doomsday’ stars Rohna Mitra as a cross between Kate Beckinsale of ‘Underworld’ and Milla Jovovich of ‘Resident Evil’, and she kicks ass. The latest ‘Centurion’ stars Olga Kurylenko as Etain, a warrior-animal out to have Roman blood, and how.
The stage is set. It’s an epic journey for survival. In 'The Descent,' it’s the unidentified inhabitants of the underground cave, in 'Doomsday', it’s the survivors/victims of the reaper virus, in 'Centurion', the Picts vs the Romans. It starts with a group, an eclectic group — and as the film progresses, you watch them die, one by one. The body count in 'Doomsday' is better, three survives. However, this is not ‘Final Destination,’ a film about various ingenious ways of killing its characters. In 'Final Destination', you know everyone is going to die. You sit back and watch (and enjoy!) them dying.
In a Neil Marshall film however, you care about the characters who die. Marshall does a smart thing. He hires actors with commanding personality, like Liam Cunningham in ‘Centurion’, and give them a few establishing footage so that the audience can root for them, something that most B horror action movies forget to do.
At the end, a Neil Marshall film is bloody violent, gratuitously visceral, relentlessly fast-paced adventure film. At the end, it does not count much. But as you watch the film, it’s a ride worth the while. You can credit this for picture perfect photography, and top-notch production design, and it does not hurt that Marshall was an professional editor.
And the locations?
While 'The Descent' is mostly shot inside a cave, and what photography, both 'Doomsday' and 'Centurion' is located in Scotland. The Hadrian’s wall, which features prominently in 'Doomsday', becomes the background of the Roman action-epic 'Centurion'.
'The Descent' is the story of group of hard-assed women who are into adventure sport. After one such adventure Sarah’s husband and daughter is killed in an accident, and she is wounded. One year later, her friends meet and invites her to another adventure in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. It was supposed to be a simple hike, until they discover a cave, not marked in the map. The girls dare each other and decided to explored the cave. They do, and all hell breaks loose. The entrance caves in and they are struck, and they discover that the cave is inhabited by some kind of creature, who are humanoid, but not quite human (Remember the second half of 'The 13th Warrior'?)
In the first look, 'Doomsday' looks like an update on Danny Boyle’s '28 Days Later'. Mercifully, however, the reaper virus does not turn you into a zombie. But there is no cure. So, when the virus struck Scotland, the British government decided to quarantine the entire country, around the Hadrian’s Wall. A small girl with only one eye managed to get away. Now, 30 years later, in 2032, the girl has grown up into Eden Sinclair, Alice of Resident Evil on Steriods, as the cliché goes. The virus attacks again. Now, Sinclair and her team much go to inside the wall and find a cure. There is blood, chase, and other action sequences, in the tradition of 'Mad Max (Beyond Thunderdom)', and 'The Warrior', the punk horror style, spiced with mediaeval horror, but the greatest thing about the movie is that it’s able to fight the temptation to turn into a zombie/vampire flick. Kudos.
You cannot make a 'Gladitor' every other day. Even Ridley Scott himself and his leading man could not do it in 'Robin Hood'. Marshall does not even try. In 'Centurion', the Roman part of the story/background is just an excuse to play around with the action. You are tired of seeing those guns, bombs and other high-tech stuff. It’s time of something ancient, sword and sandal. Michael Fassbender (Of ‘Hunger’, his breakthrough role), is Centurion Quitas Dias, who is caught by the Picts, a tribe in ancient Scotland, whom the Romans are trying to dominate but cannot. He is caught and taken to the Pict village from where he flees, to meet the fable ninth legion (history says they marched to fight the Picts something around 117 AD and never returned.). The legion is led by Dominic West (McNaulty of TV Series 'The Wire'), and Dias is inducted. On the way to the Pict stronghold, they are attached. Everyone dies, except for a handful, who are now chased like rabits in a open ground. The chase begins, and bodies roll.
This has been a new trend in British movies, trying to tell an alternate, so-called authentic history behind the popular stories. I think, the trend was started more or less by the latest ‘King Arthur’, starring Clive Owen and Keira Knightly. It claimed to be the authentic history of the King Arthur myth, very different from the Arthur legend, where Arthur becomes a Roman, Guinevere is a Pict princess, and no, she did not have an affair with Sir Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart. The trend from in Ridley Scott’s recent Robin Hood. Russel Crowe’s Robin Longstride is before the legend began. In the same fashion, Centurion tells the story of what happened to the fabled ninth legion. And, since this is a Neil Marshall film, we all know the ending, they all died, except for one, thanks for the small mercies.