Starring Drew Russell, Kara Schaaf, M.C. Brown, Aaron Gaffey, Edwin Villa, Ward Roberts, Steven Cryen
Directed by Michael Su
The Running Man meets House of the Dead in Michael Su’s fun hybrid of action, horror, and reality television. Set in the not-too-distant future, ten criminals facing long prison sentences are sent to the tiny island of Isla de Romero to compete on the reality game show “Survival Island 2020”. Divided into color coded pairs of two, the condemned criminals are told that if they can just make it to the other side of the island within three days they can win both their freedom and $50 million in cash. The combatants are given very few supplies, forced to rely on a map of the island with marked areas where they’ll find some life-saving supplies: water, weapons, etc. The “Survival Island 2020” host, a guy that looked and sounded to me like he’d have been more suited for hosting duties on The Discovery Channel than the mouthpiece for a violent reality game show, initially briefs the contestants via a holographic image emanating from a device on the beach. Later on, his head makes a few brief appearances by way of a pop-up (technically pop-down) computer monitor so that he can throw a few new twists their way.
The host told them that no one has ever survived “Survival Island 2020”. What he doesn’t tell them is why’ they’ll soon discover that Isla de Romero is crawling with zombies in military fatigues. The only hint we’ll ever get to why there are zombies running amok comes from one of the criminal contestants, an ex-marine who’d heard rumors of a military experiment gone wrong on an island that led to a whole bunch of soldiers becoming infected with something that transformed them into the walking dead in a constant 28 Days Later-esque frenzy. One can still become infected if bit by a zombie since the infection is determined to be bloodborne. Some of the zombies can take a considerable amount of punishment, while others are quite wimpy and easily killed, especially those encountered during the film’s first half. Even though they’re obviously zombies, I don’t recall the “z” word ever actually being used. The closing credits list them simply as “The Infected.”
These “infected” soldiers are just one part of their problem. The nefarious contestants are prone to backstabbing one another and abandoning others to save their own hides. They are felons after all. Standouts amongst the potentially doomed include the likes of a murderous hooker with a very bad attitude, a mass murderer who seems way to friendly to be the cold-blooded killer he’s supposed to be, a computer crimes pacifist who learned how to protect himself from playing video games like Halo and Doom, and a mousy-on-the-surface young female who got sentenced to 25 years in prison for stalking and shoplifting. A quarter of a century prison sentence for stalking and shoplifting and then forced to compete on a potentially fatal game show? Talk about harsh sentencing…
Like the 2001 slasher-movie-as-a-reality-game-show-spoof $lashers, Doomed is also filmed entirely from the perspective of it being an episode of an actual television program. We and the competitors are shown these little camera doohickeys hovering in the air at the very beginning; the show’s host informs everyone that these unobtrusive (and never again seen) flying cameras will be following and filming their every move – in night vision and infra red on a few occasions. Though everything we see is supposed to be from the point of view of those cameras, I’d argue that’s highly questionable given some of the film’s camerawork. Still, Su does a good job with this technique and it certainly seemed to help the keep things lively going.
More tricks are used to help give what we’re seeing more of a reality TV feel, like the names and crimes they’re being punished for flashing on-screen when the ten criminal participants are first introduced. A CGI, rotating 360-degrees, aerial mock-up of the island is used so that we know who is where whenever the proceedings jump around between contestants. When a contestant is killed their death will be accompanied by the word TERMINATED appearing on the screen.
The competitors can even score points; those points pop-up on the screen during fights to inform us how many points they’ve just scored and for what sort of power shots, body blows, kill shots, etc they’ve scored them for. The scoring system is a nifty inclusion that gives the fight scenes – human vs. zombie and even human vs. human – a video game feel, although I’m not really sure what the point of a scoring system is supposed to be since the objective of this game show is a live or die scenario, not a score-oriented competition.
At the halfway point of the film, the host reappears to talk directly to us, the viewers, giving a spirited voiceover to a highlight reel recap of the first half’s action that actually makes much of the zombie-battling we’ve seen up until this point seem more exciting than it actually was.
Don’t get me wrong. I was genuinely surprised by how much fun I had watching Doomed. It’s just that its biggest drawback is that it never really cuts loose like it should. Most of the zombie scrapes are rather uneventful for much of the early going and the movie isn’t nearly as over-the-top as it probably should have been given the premise. For example, we’re cheated out of a potential chainsaw massacre by having a character getting their hands on one only to get swarmed by zombies while revving it up.
Doomed is certainly ambitious given its resources and all involved with its creation deserve kudos for making something a little different and more lively (despite a few unfortunate lulls in the action along the way) than the typical low budget stuff cluttering DVD shelves yet the production was obviously hindered by its micro-budget. Doomed lacked an all-out berserk battle scene like say the graveyard shootout from House of the Dead. Say what you will about Uwe Boll’s infamous disasterpiece, with the budget and resources he had at his disposal and given the screenplay for Doomed instead of the one not worth the paper it was written on he chose to go with, odds are that House of the Dead might have ended up a minor cult classic rather than the bad movie infamy it has instead achieved. Or better yet, just have given Michael Su and company a Boll budget to have made Doomed.
So despite the budget sometimes not allowing the action to be quite as action-packed as it could have been, some uneven acting on the part of certain cast members, and, if you ask me, the screenplay really could have used some punchier dialogue; but all that aside, Doomed is one of the most pleasant direct-to-DVD surprises I’ve come across in a long time. You’ll hit some potholes along the way but it’s still a hell of a ride.
3 1/2 out of 5
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