The Films of Neil Marshall
Dog Soldiers (February 9/18)
Neil Marshall's directorial debut, Dog Soldiers details the chaos that unfolds after a routine military exercise takes a decidedly horrific turn. There's a rough-around-the-edges feel to much of Dog Soldiers that's generally rather easy to overlook, as the narrative's various problems, including pacing issues and interchangeable characters, are generally allayed by Marshall's visceral, violent take on his own screenplay. And while the movie's deliberately-paced first half doesn't entirely work - Marshall's attempts to develop the protagonists and build an atmosphere of tension fall fairly flat - Dog Soldiers boasts a second half that admittedly does contain a handful of thoroughly engrossing sequences and set-pieces (eg a bitten character inevitably transforms into a werewolf). It's clear, too, that the movie improves substantially once its very large cast is winnowed down to a mere handful, with performers like Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd eventually managing to transform their characters into somewhat compelling protagonists - which does ensure that the final battle is much more engrossing than one might've anticipated. The end result is a strong first film that never quite becomes the balls-to-the-wall extravaganza promised by its logline, with Dog Soldiers nevertheless standing as a fine out-of-the-gate effort from a filmmaker who would go onto bigger and better things.
The Descent (December 26/05)
The Descent marks filmmaker Neil Marshall's first effort since his debut, 2002's Dog Soldiers, and to call this an improvement is a wild understatement. Though Dog Soldiers was actually pretty entertaining and enjoyable, the film was distinctly lacking in tension and actual horror - two things that are extremely prominent within The Descent. The story follows six female friends as they embark on a caving expedition somewhere in the hills of North Carolina and subsequently find themselves lost within its claustrophobic walls. Though it features an admittedly iffy opening half hour, The Descent eventually becomes a tense, suspenseful, and flat-out terrifying horror film. Even before the girls find themselves under attack from outside forces, the movie succeeds as a visceral and thoroughly claustrophobic look at the efforts of these disparate characters to cope with their newfound surroundings. Like Open Water and The Blair Witch Project before it, The Descent effectively (and realistically) captures the vibe of being lost in the last possible place one would ever want to be lost. Marshall handles the film's abrupt shift from psychological drama to balls-to-the-wall scarefest with astounding ease, ensuring that the discomforting and surprisingly plausible tone remains intact throughout. And though the movie is shrouded in darkness for roughly 90% of its running time, there's never a sense of incoherence or oppressiveness at work here. About the only really negative thing one can say about The Descent - aside from the relatively sedate first act - is that it is occasionally difficult to tell the actresses apart, but that's an awfully minor complaint for a film that is as genuinely frightening as this.
Set decades after a superflu has quarantined all of Scotland, Doomsday follows a tough-as-nails soldier (Rhona Mitra's Eden Sinclair) as she and her men are sent into the now-lawless country to track down a cure - with the movie detailing their progressively violent attempts at tracking down a mysterious medical researcher named Dr. Kane (Malcolm McDowell). Filmmaker Neil Marshall delivers a blisteringly-paced opening stretch that effectively establishes the movie's dystopian landscape and the rough-and-tumble protagonists, with the decidedly familiar bent of the film's atmosphere allayed by Marshall's solid, stylish handling of his own screenplay. It's only as Doomsday segues into its erratic midsection that one's interest begins to flag, with, especially, the initial emphasis on several post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-like thugs infusing the proceedings with a tired and been-there-done-that sort of feel. There's little doubt that the film begins to improve almost immediately after that point, however, as Marshall's remarkably inventive script contains a number of impressive tonal changes throughout the movie's (somewhat overlong) running time - with the narrative morphing into, among other things, an exciting car-chase thriller and a engrossing medieval actioner. By the time the fairly enthralling third act rolls around, Doomsday has undoubtedly managed to overcome an uneven start to become a surprisingly entertaining (and unabashedly over-the-top) piece of work - with Mitra's fine work, as well as the strong performances from an accomplished supporting cast, perpetuating the movie's better-than-expected vibe.
Written and directed by Neil Marshall, Centurion follows Roman soldier Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) as he and several other men attempt to fight their way to safety after their legion is devastated in a guerilla attack. It's clear almost immediately that Centurion's biggest assets are its various performances and visceral, violent sensibilities, as the movie suffers from an erratic narrative that's increasingly saddled with a decidedly hit-and-miss feel (ie there's not a whole lot of forward momentum at work here) - with the episodic midsection certainly perpetuating the picture's increasingly uneven atmosphere. Despite such deficiencies, however, Centurion ultimately does manage to sustain one's interest for the duration of its 97 minute running time - with Marshall's typically (and almost aggressively) in-your-face directorial approach ensuring that the movie's many battle and fight sequences are exciting and electrifying (ie they're just so violent, gleefully so). It's ultimately disappointing, then, that the film is never quite able to become the electrifying epic Marshall has obviously intended, which is a shame given the large proliferation of positive elements that have been suffused throughout the proceedings. (It would've been nice, in the final result, if the whole thing had added up to something more than just a passable time-killer.)