Run for the hills. Director/writer Neil Marshall (“The Descent”) says the world is going to end and there’s nothing you can do about it.
His new film, “Doomsday,” which opens nationwide March 14, follows a special ops team as they enter a quarantined Britain cut off from the rest of the world after a deadly virus kills hundreds of thousands.
During a phone interview with me, Marshall, 38, who is originally from England, talked about his work as a horror film director, his love of apocalyptic cinema, and why the idea behind “Doomsday” isn’t as improbable as people would like to believe.
When did you come up with the story for “Doomsday?”
I had the idea for the story about three or four years before I did “The Decent.” I knew it was going to be too big of a budget and too big scale to tackle at an early stage of my career. I needed to get more experience and a couple of films under my belt. I think “The Decent” fulfilled that.
I’m sure you’ve heard people refer to you as a member of the “Splat Pack,” (a group of directors, including Eli Roth, Alexandre Aja, and Darren Lynn Bousman, known for their “brutally violent horror films”). Are you comfortable with that distinction or would you rather stand alone as a director?
Both actually. I honestly don’t mind that kind of label. It doesn’t bother me at all. When I’m making horror films it’s fine to be a part of the Splat Pack. But I also want to be seen individually as a director with other films. Certainly [“Doomsday”] is something like that.
The reason I ask is because I’m someone who watches hundreds of movies each year, I can honestly say I though “The Descent” was at a much higher level than films like “Saw” or “Hostel” or anything else in the horror genre in recent years. What do you think separates you from other directors that are categorized in the same group as you?
I think the issue for me is that it’s not all about the splat. The splat is fine but I like my films to ascend right above that. “The Descent” was a character-driven horror piece and I hope people do see more from it that just the gore-factor.
“The Descent” was only your second film, so what did you learn about yourself as a director that helped you get ready for a bigger project like “Doomsday?”
Well, with my first feature, “Dog Soldiers,” I edited it myself and shot it with the edits in mind. With “The Decent” I learned to step back a bit and shoot it a bit more freeform so I can give the editor more room to maneuver and give me more room to maneuver as a director. That was a great learning experience for me.
Some people are already describing “Doomsday” as a 21st century version of “Mad Max.” You’ve stated in other interviews that you’ve been a big fan of apocalyptic movies since you were young. What was it about this genre that you liked so much growing up?
It was period of filmmaking in the early ’80s where these things were sort of all over the place. These were the first films I saw on VHS at home – “Mad Max,” “Escape from New York.” I wasn’t old enough to see these movies at the cinema when they first came out. I was immediately hooked to them. I thought they were brilliant. They certainly had an effect on me. The style of filmmaking was visceral and raw and that’s what I had in mind when making “Doomsday.”
With so many new diseases coming up all the time – the phrase “Bird Flu” wasn’t even in our lexicon 20 years ago – do you think something like a world-ending epidemic like in “Doomsday” could actually happen?
Oh, absolutely. I think at the end of the day, something like that is bound to happen at some point. It’s happened before in the 30’s and the 40’s with the influenza epidemic – it wiped out millions. It’s not that far fetched at all. I think it’s inevitable.