Review: Last Days on Mars
PLOT: A group of astronauts- part of the first manned expedition to Mars- are exposed to a bacteria that turns its victims into crazed zombie-like creatures.
REVIEW: Considering the pedigreed cast and the premise (zombies on Mars) it's a bit of a surprise THE LAST DAYS ON MARS isn't getting a more high profile release. Despite the (presumably) modest budget, the production values are high, with newcomer Ruairi Robinson showing a lot of promise behind the camera. In fact, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is significantly better than any of the high profile Mars movies we got around the year 2000, like MISSION TO MARS, RED PLANET and GHOST OF MARS. But it's strange that most people will see this on VOD as a couple of years ago this definitely would have hit the multiplexes as it's nothing if not commercial.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS actually feels a lot like the ALIEN-clones that were so popular in the eighties (LEVIATHAN, DEEP STAR SIX, CREATURE, LIFEFORCE) and I mean that in a good way as I love those films. It's not terribly original, with the who's the next to die? technique in full swing, but the cast is game. Liev Schreiber, who's in the midst of a great run on RAY DONOVAN plays the hero, a worn-out astronaut who's dreading the sixth month trip home in the confines of a space ship he likens to a flying coffin strapped to a nuclear missile. He's prone to anxiety attacks, but once things go bad, he turns out to be the guy you want around, with him being a kind of male Ripley. Schreiber's always been a charismatic guy, and he effortlessly pulls off a more action-oriented role, and makes for a strong lead.
The rest of the cast is also good, although being lesser names than Schreiber, each of them seems fair game in the face of their infected crew-mates. Romola Garai, who's usually seen in period parts like ATONEMENT or BBC's excellent (but cancelled) THE HOUR, makes for a likable astronaut. Fellow Brit Olivia Williams (famous for playing the object of Max Fisher's affection in RUSHMORE) plays against type as a bitchy scientist, who's bent on making a name for herself no matter what the cost. Imagine her as a more sympathetic Ash from ALIEN and you're not far off. The great Elias Koteas is also on-board as the Tom Skerritt-like commander. Wanna bet there's also a squirrely guy who totally loses it once people start turning into zombies? Check.
Given all my comparisons to ALIEN, it's not a stretch to call THE LAST DAYS ON MARS derivative. It doesn't try to hide the obvious (massive) influence ALIEN had on it, but nevertheless it's slick and tightly paced. What's most impressive is the production value Robinson's managed to infuse into the film, with gorgeous scope photography by Robbie Ryan- with Jordan doubling for Mars- and a strong score by regular Ari Folman collaborator Max Richter.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS is a throw back to the older, leaner kinds of sci-fi thrillers that used to be commonplace, but are now rare. It's certainly nothing new, but it's still a pretty entertaining sci-fi horror hybrid and definitely worth a look.