First-time Irish director Ruairi Robinson aims for a classy meld of genres with his sci-fi/zombie thrillerThe Last Days On Mars, and he’s certainly attracted a classy cast to the Jordan-shot project, including Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai and Olivia Williams. The tropes come on faster and more furiously than the zombies, however, with the airlock button practically upstaging the actors.
As the characters amiably shuffle their way through rote zombification, what’s missing is a sense of peril on the way to the film’s intriguing finale. With zombies in the low figures,The Last Days On Marscould lack enough meat for genre fans to feed on, and it needs more brains to bring out the Alien fanbase. However, genre fans are a resilient lot and this mid-budget outing from may have enough star-power to secure decent returns internationally.
Jordan stands in for Mars as the film’s real selling point, outside reliably good performances from Schreiber and Koteas, with Olivia Williams at her scene-stealing best. Amongst the younger members of the cast, Tom Cullen (Weekend) stands out. Robinson, a short film-maker with an expertise in animation and visual effects, has created a Mars beset by sandstorms as the crew of the Tantalus Base finish their last day of a manned mission to the red planet. It’s a memorable space, thanks to production designer Jon Henson, although budget limitations make themselves felt in some of the film’s interiors.
When a renegade crew member discovers a strain of bacteria and heads off by himself to investigate, all bets are off and the writing is on the wall for the rest of the team waiting for the Aurora relief ship to arrive and take them home. Led by Captain Brunel (Koteas), the crew are in a fragile emotional stage after a lengthy six-months in stasis on their way to Mars and a fruitless exploration on the planet. Campbell (Schreiber) in particular is feeling the strain and flashes back to an incident in the voyage, from which he was rescued by Lane (Garai).
The aggressively determined biologist Kim (Williams) is unpopular with the team, although she’s precisely the type of person you’d want on your side if the zombies came calling.
And come calling they do. Following very closely on the heels of last year’s Prometheus which mined very similar terrain in more portentous (and expensive) way, The Last Days On Mars has a target audience which has proven itself resilient to the repetitiveness of clanking doors, creaking ships, and airlocks that must be reached within seconds. Universal, which developed Mars, will wait to see the extent of that resilience. Working from an adaptation of Sydney J. Bounds’ The Animators, Robinson has left an open finale with room for a sequel. With more money and experience, that could be an intriguing prospect.