Starring: Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams
Genre: Action/ Horror
In the 2040s, man has set up a research base on Mars known as Tantalus, however despite them being there six months the crew enter the very last day of their mission having made no scientific discoveries of note, waiting to be picked up by a spacecraft to take them on the long journey home. However when one member discovers what may be a bacteria life form and disobeys orders to get more samples disaster strikes and the bacteria begins to infect members of the crew, turning them into rabid, zombie-like creatures. The surviving members of the crew now face an increasing struggle to avoid infection and return to earth without the infection coming with them.
If you are going to make a discovery that leads to a zombie like infection on the crew of a space mission then of course you are going to make it just before you and your crew are about to return to earth! That is one of the many, many clichés that The Last Days of Mars seems to unashamedly tick off as its generic narrative plods along. It is not worth listing the space/horror/zombie films (as well as a 2009 Dr. Who episode) that Irish director Ruari Robinson seems happy to copy in what is an adaptation of a short story called The Animators.
Despite all this there is something almost reassuring and nostalgic about just how predictable the story is; once the first infection happens The Last Days on Mars is a very watchable 98 minutes of competently made genre cinema. With a comparatively low budget at his disposal, Robinson manages to create an impressive and genuinely claustrophobic atmosphere. Even if the narrative becomes predictably episodic (run away to somewhere, get trapped, escape; repeat) and everything is played predominantly straight faced, TLDOM is good fun. Maybe budget restraints played their part, but the gore is kept to an effective minimum and the suffocating interior settings provide a more effective sense of claustrophobia than perhaps big expensive set pieces would even try to.
Though not perhaps Hollywood A-listers, the cast of predominantly familiar faces all give solid performances, with an effectively gruff Liev Schreiber a very watchable leading man, making the characters worth rooting for. This is helped by Clive Dawson’s suitably lean but effective screenplay predominantly avoiding giving the characters any back story. Schreiber’s character has a slightly jarring back story involving panic attacks which in my view does not work at all, but despite that and a bit of personal vendettas with Olivia William’s uptight scientist, all the characters simply have one goal and that is to survive. We are given some exposition from the start about their mission and then the first infection happens; it is this lean, kitchen sink approach to all aspects of the film that is one of the reasons The Last Days on Mars is such a watchable, if very forgettable, film.
Almost serving as a drinking game of ‘drink when you see something that you have seen done before’; The Last Days on Mars does not even pretend to do anything new, but is still an effectively atmospheric and entertaining old school space survival thriller/ horror.