Myth Maker: The Cinema of Neil Marshall.
Neil Marshall has been announced as the director of the Troll Hunter remake. Though I find this a waste of time in every sense, Marshall’s the deft choice. If you want an action-packed, edge-of-your-seat spectacle of a movie, set in the cold climes of the European continent, then Marshall’s your man. In an effort to justify this claim, I present to you Neil Marshall’s filmography thus far! Back in August we presented the Top 5 New Wave Horror Directors. Well, Marshall and his own band of merry men were the previous wave. Along with directors James Wan, Vincenzo Natali and Lucky McKee, Marshall was laying new foundations for a genre which had long been submerged by a rising tide of reboots and remakes.
After co-writing and editing Killing Time, Marshall made his directorial debut in 2002 with Dog Soldiers. Dog Soldiers was hugely popular and highly revered upon release – and made Monster Pictures own Top 5 Werewolf Movies. A tale set in the Scottish Highlands, we follow a band of army grunts on a training exercise, who swiftly discover they are walking into a supernatural trap, set by Military Captain, Ryan (Liam Cunningham). In an act of irony, Ryan’s own troop is slaughtered first. With his tail between his legs, Ryan employs the help of Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) and his men to extract him from danger. Finding solace in an empty farmhouse, the soldiers make a stand against the carnivorous beasts.
In 2005, Marshall brought us The Descent. A straight-up horror movie this time, The Descent had next to no laughs, with Marshall ratcheting up the tension to near unbearable levels. A simple yet thrilling plot saw a group of close girlfriends go spelunking for the weekend. The girls are experienced and almost junkie-like in their love of cold, dark spaces. Marshall sets the tone early with a horrific, dream-like sequence. One member of the group (Shauna Macdonald) has faced great trauma as a result of an awful accident and the proposed weekend away is an effort to help return some normality to her life.
The Descent is one of those contemporary movies which raises the question; why hasn’t anybody done this before? The claustrophobic nature of the film from the caving and potholing is enough to leave its audience ill at ease. Throw into the mix carnivorous under-dwellers (Were they once human?) and you’ve got a recipe for a classic addition to the genre.
The Descent is Marshall’s best film (so far). Despite the camaraderie between the women, it’s a down-beat affair. On paper, the film’s a slam-dunk – and Marshall excels in his execution. A sequel was made based on the alternative ending made for American audiences. The original ending represents true horror – surely any fan would expect nothing less?!
So far Marshall had given us an all-male cast in Dog Soldiers, followed by an all-female cast in The Descent. With his next feature, Marshall would throw both genders into the mix – each more butch and intimidating than the other!
Doomsday was unleashed on us in 2008. I stupidly waited for DVD for this one. It looked to be an amalgamation of Death Race and Mad Max – with a soupçon of Resident Evil thrown in for good measure. I wasn’t far off! That which wasn’t immediately apparent was Neil Marshall’s influence as director. A bombastic skill-set and a willingness to deliver to adult audiences what had been missing from the commercial arena – boat loads of fun! Tarantino and Rodriguez had attempted a similar feat the year before with their Grindhouse double feature (Doomsday would not have looked out of place among these two).
When a lethal virus threatens the United Kingdom, the government quarantines the area which has been hit hardest, namely the entirety of Scotland. Effectively saving the rest of the British Isles, Scotland is left to rot for 25 years. In 2033, the virus strikes closer to the capital in an isolated incident. Life forms have since been discovered within the walls of the now decimated Scottish Isle, giving the authorities reason to assume a cure has surfaced.
After the seriousness of The Descent, Marshall cut loose in a film closer in attitude to his debut. Fulfilling every young males wildest fantasies; car chases, beautiful women, gladiatorial bouts, explosions and gore – Doomsday had it all!
The always reputable Bob Hoskins lends the film gravitas at the start, leaving Rhona Mitra to guide us on our post-apocalyptic journey. The film hits the gas about halfway through and doesn’t let up until the credits roll.
It’s a shame both this and Grindhouse didn’t do as expected in theatres, as far as box office is concerned. They no doubt found their audience on DVD. One can only hope that’s enough to procure similarly budgeted, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink-type ventures. Yes, yes, I’m being hypercritical here, but I clearly stated how stupid I was!
Centurion was released in 2010 amongst a plethora of swords and sandals epics, which Gladiator had brought back into fashion a decade before. Centurion recounts the disappearance of the Ninth Legion of the Roman Empire, as they marched on the Picts with the intention to wipe them out. Based on historical fact (no one knows what happened to the Ninth), Marshall takes creative licence here, surmising the Legion was attacked and its survivors chased across the country.
The film has a fabulous cast, led by Michael Fassbender and Dominic West. It’s beautifully photographed and once again makes full use of the chilly European climate. The film is bloody and gruelling and plays like an action adventure. Marshall himself freely admitted to his less than accurate take on the story, but the blurring of fact and fiction left many a tad ambivalent.
To underestimate Marshall’s directing prowess was to miss another visually engrossing and exciting yarn. It may be his least accessible film but it still trumps similarly themed works with an emphasis on historical fact.
Marshall’s adept handling of Centurion undoubtedly led to his involvement on Game of Thrones, where he directed two episodes (as of writing).
Along with Troll Hunter, Marshall has also been linked to a King Kong sequel (of sorts). Researching the man, you’ll find a host of projects which have yet to see the light of day. Unfortunately the internet has made it so, if any mere mention of an idea or project hits the web, it’s spread across the globe, leading to gossip and conjecture (hi there).
Of course if Troll Hunter does appear on our screens, we can all take comfort in the fact that it’ll be a whole heap of fun!