These Kids Today: Doomed (2007)

Director: Michael Su
Automatic Media, 1:16, color
Cinema 4 Rating: 3

Is it high praise indeed to say that, at the very least, your zombie film wasn't directed by Uwe Boll?

Please, let us get past the point where things aren't so obviously named after film directors or stars as a supposed "in-joke." That stuff died with Night of the Creeps, where they did it so much and so obnoxiously that it actually was funny. And clever. Here, in the "Survivor meets the living dead" video Doomed, the island on which the prison lifers are stranded for the entertainment of the masses is called Isla de Romero. Too obvious, and not all that clever. A funnier way to go about this would have been to name it Isla de Fulci, since most of the moves here, including the "surprise" ending, are culled from the Italian zombie hack's oeuvre far more than there is any direct influence derived from George Romero here.

And, please, let us get past the point where reality shows are the basis for the entire plot. We are now faced with the dire situation where a certain proportion of our young aspiring filmmakers are no longer being influenced by things such as literature, art, the classical canon or even film history, but solely by video games, crappy remakes of far better, older horror films, and the false reality of reality shows. This is not to say that high art cannot come out of having these influences -- there will surely be someone who comes along and proves this theory completely wrong, a savior-Tarantino for Generation-Ought. The entire screenplay will be based entirely around the phrases "Whatever," "off the chain," "Oh, snap!" and "giggety," half of the film will be shot as a POV shooter, human reaction shots will be replaced by anime facial contortions, there will be a ticker reporting the latest in tech news and simultaneously running comments from giggling girls spewing "LOL" and LMAO" forth from their keyboards, and the actual filming will be presented on a TV show where loyal viewers, themselves competing on a separate tie-in TV series, vie to win the right to vote the key grip off the production. Despite, or because of, these limitations, through sheer force of talent, it will actually seem a triple-post-modern social commentary on contemporary mores, and it will somehow come out shining and brilliant.

But, based on the evidence thus far, there is far more to fear from the failed attempts over the next dozen years or so of filmmakers chained to these influences than from the actual plotlines of those films. Sure, people are generally up in arms about the current vogue for "torture porn" in mainstream horror films, and at least one of the practitioners (or, at least the one who seems to get singled out by the media), the talented Eli Roth of Hostel II infamy, may turn out to be that savior of whom I prophetize. But I don't see this "gorno" trend (as Raw Meat likes to call it) to be one which has extended from the downgraded media with which we are now laden; I see it as something running parallel to it, as another symptom of the problem. I see it as a conditional sandpapering down of barriers due to the rise of the use of the human body as a transformable canvas.

I have nothing against body adornment, and anyone can be anything they wish to be and look however they like. But, as we become a nation that is ever more willing to swap small, controlled amounts of pain to fulfill whatever crazy idea we have of personal beauty (or its opposite, shocking effect), then it is possible that the audience that is receptive to this concept, which makes up a good portion of the current entertainment audience, has become, bit by bit, more and more inured to the pain of others on film. We become more and more willing to watch someone slowly get branded to death because we remember exactly how much getting that tramp stamp on our be-hoot-ney stung; this generation of X-tremists, raised on throwing their body ever more into uncaring, personal danger and wanna-be fake gangsterism, can deal with it, motherfucker, so bring it...

If only it were true that there was some form of torture porn in Doomed. It actually may have made it more interesting. A few characters do have other ones at a disadvantage here and there, and as it is a game show to the death, evil things will happen. But there is not a single character that lives and breathes beyond the too few acting lessons of its pack of veritable amateurs, and there isn't even the slightest aura of menace in any of the empty threats of these characters. One would be tempted to say that this is merely a reflection of the same attitudes expressed in any reality show challenge, but that would imply that director Su and screenwriter Patrick McManus (not that Patrick McManus) actually knew how to achieve that effect on screen. This would then bring up the question of, if they could do that subtly enough, why they couldn't bring out a similar sure touch on the rest of the film.

What the film gets right is its length: surprising short at 76 minutes, the film moves fast, in exactly the opposite way that Boll's films don't. Characters keep moving. Arguments between the doomed convicts, conspiracy theories about the corporation controlling the show, and inspirational speeches from the few characters who do make some small personal connection are kept briefer than this sentence. And they made it nearly impossible to tell who was going to make it off the island. If there is any small triumph that springs forth from this movie, it is this, but naturally, this is easier to achieve if you don't actually give any depth to your characters.

The film also has an effect that I found annoying at first, but actually kind of dug after awhile (and I no longer partake of video games), which was the way the screen would freeze anytime someone got punched or kicked or stabbed. One character starts hacking away at a group of zombie, and the words "Body Chop" would appear, along with a selection of points score for each attacking move. It started me wondering if, in fact, the "show" we are supposedly watching in the year 2020 within the film is actually just a photo-realistic video game. Of course, once more I am giving Su and McManus far more credit than they deserve. Anyway, it would have been far more intriguing if the convicts had been wired to receive stimuli from home viewers actually controlling their actions in their fight against the zombies, thereby literally becoming video-game pawns. And if it can be argued that Doomed is really striving to be nothing more than a low-budget social satire, it is of the sort that could just as easily be created by third-graders, with just as much awareness.

Oh, yes, speaking of zombies and the lack of menace in this film. These are your chief culprits. Absolutely non-frightening, practically bloodless except for the chunder they spew up on occasion, and practically incapable of eating flesh (possibly due to monetary limitations). At the very least, if you are going straight-to-video, and are able to bypass the MPAA by and large, give us something gory. Give us tits, give us blood, give us the old in-out in-out. This film is so clean (outside of its language) that I could probably show it to my 90-year-old grandmother and not have her come out shocked. And its monstrous denizens are even cleaner. Zombies converge on a single victim, and there is a lot of screaming and a lot of kicking, but more than once, the zombies completely cover the body and then the camera pulls away from the top of the pile, interrupting the carnage with a black screen and the words "Transmission Interrupted" and then "Terminated." I am not a gorehound by any means, but once I am inside a film, and I have adapted to the style of storytelling with which I am now bound, I am in there. If it is a zombie flick, for the most part, I have certain expectations. I love it when these expectations are confounded, but only when the means around them is new and fresh, exciting and inventive. I hate it when these expectations are confounded by gutless filmmaking. Literally, gutless filmmaking.

There is even a character here who gets slashed across the stomach in such a way that it appears he is dead from the outset of the film. Later, he gets up, wanders about the island, and starts kicking zombie butt like the Bruce Lee of Des Moines, Iowa. Sure, he holds his stomach in pain when he isn't fighting, but there is a hardly a drop of blood on his shirt through the entire thing. Until he gets attacked and brought down by a group of zombies... and then you hardly see anything there either.

That is, literally, gutless filmmaking.


Anonymous said…
You know, what always bothers me about zombie movies is that the cemetaries in those flicks always seem to be overflowing with young and middle-aged people. I realize they do it because a living dead movie whose monsters make it look like it was shot at a retirement home wouldn't be as appealing to the young gore-hounds who flock to these things, but still....

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