The Last Days on Mars (film review)
The Last Days on Mars (2013) Magnet Releasing/Magnolia Pictures
1 hr. 38 mins.
Starring: Live Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romoa Garai, Olivia Williams, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen, Johnny Harris, Yusra Warsama, Patrick Joseph Byrnes
Directed by: Ruairi Robinson
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Science Fiction/Space Fantasy
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)
Filmmaker Ruairi Robinson’s derivative danger-in-space sci-fi thriller The Days on Mars not only sports an uneventful movie title but lacks any distinctive pizzazz to its conventional proceedings. Tiredly patched together from countless space adventures and walking dead ditties that have graced our sights previously, The Last Days on Mars feels rather contrived and cockeyed in its low-budgeted lunacy.
Although at times visually imaginative and impishly atmospheric, Robinson’s slow-footed planetary yarn simply sputters and never really quite takes advantage of its potential for high-minded, cheesy frolicking. Instead, The Last Days on Mars settles in on its creative stiffness and merely marches through its mundane motions. Robinson’s by-the-numbers space fantasy is not as cerebral as it can aspire to be nor is it loose or confident enough to embrace any campy leanings.
Despite an intriguing cast and the hybrid happenings of a science fiction monster flick blossoming in the darkened outskirts of the unknown galaxy, The Last Days on Mars has all the thrilling dimensions of a lop-sided moon rock. In a sophisticated day and age where ambitious fare such as the superior Gravity and the ubiquitous popularity of zombie-inspired madness ruling both the big and small screens alike hollow flinching fables such as Mars cannot afford to be just another arbitrary space-aged saga with no kind of colorful punch or push. Sadly, this Red Planet meets Night of the Living Dead concoction does not particularly register with any resounding sense of animated mayhem.
The Last Days on Mars is Irish director Robinson’s feature film debut and he does demonstrate some stylish knack for visualization and convincing stokes of occasional anxiousness for the tension-filled material. Screenwriter Clive Dawson has adapted Mars’s big screen exploits from Sydney J. Bounds’s short story “The Animators”. Still, the plotting of the storyline is hampered by its choppiness as this flaccid frightfest delves into familiar territory with minimal appeal for salacious suspense.
A group of space explorers/scientists are conducting their experimental business in their final mission to Mars. However, a last minute discovery of mysterious bacterium will prove quite deadly to the crew. You see…the discovered bacterium in question is so potent that it turns its victims into ravenous beasts-of-burden. The infection is overwhelming and there is no overcoming its toxic side effects—the alien zombification process of the infected individual means troubling times for the surviving ones trying to rebuff the beastly bunch of blood-suckers. YIKES!
Our harried astronauts from Tantalus Base include control systems expert Vincent Campbell (Liev Schreiber) whose inner fears for tight, confining spaces make for obvious concerns in the space capsule cockpit. Officer Marco (Goran Kostic)—discoverer of the blasphemous bacterial substance—was responsible for testing out their dangerous findings until he became one of the unfortunate souls to succumb to the zombie-inducing soiled samplings. Science officer Aldrich (Olivia Williams) is a hardcore honeybun that is distant and takes no crap from anybody. The extremely likable medic Lane (Romola Garai), much like Marco, is exposed to the bacteria and is contemplating the inevitable dire circumstances of her fate. Leader Brunel (Elias Koteas) is cursed with the zombie-like poisonous bacteria in his bodily system and is ruthless in his bid to cause uncontrollable havoc. Hence, the neurotic Campbell must hold everything together as his chaotic existence—not to mentioned his vulnerable colleagues—are desperately falling apart by the waste side.
When The Last Days on Mars flourishes it is solely because of the investigative nature of the group’s traveling on the dusty Red Planet (reportedly filmed in the Jordan-based desert surroundings). The inclusion of massive rolling dust storms, cramping spaceship interiors and the glossy tinted coloring of rusty reddish locations fuels the twitchy wonderment of Mars’s goose-bump scope. Sadly, the compelling moments of the excavation takes a backseat to the flimsy goings-on of the monster-made static that never quite delivers the sensationalistic verve one would expect in gripping, frothy fare that might match the grotesque intensity of a classic John Carpenter frightner from yesteryear. The astronauts’ personalities are delightfully worrisome and dysfunctional but the movie’s sketchy and strained script lets them down.
The passive-minded The Last Days on Mars never really convincingly taps into its dramatic potential as a notoriously spunky crater-creature feature looking to work diligently on our escapist nerves.
NOTE: Focus of New York film critic Frank Ochieng is a member of: