Studio: Magnet Releasing
Director: Ruairi Robinson
Writer: Clive Dawson
Producer: Michael Kuhn, Andrea Cornwell
Stars: Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Goran Kostic, Johnny Harris, Tom Cullen, Yusra Warsama, Olivia Williams
Eight astronauts conducting a science expedition on Mars discover virulent bacteria capable of mutating human hosts.
“Microbial borings,” “bacterial cell division,” and “abiotic mineral” are just a handful of phrases “The Last Days on Mars” uses in a first act meant to disguise its sci-fi story as a thinking man’s thriller when it is really a straightforward movie about space zombies. As it distracts with jargon concerning non-organically forming PAH’s, a gamma sensor in sec 9, prepping a sample box with a grid reference and MA1 prefix, and securing more plutonium for the flux capacitor, the script quarantines the characters as science-obsessed eggheads while distancing the audience as outsiders behind a barricade made from superfluous terms.
“The Last Days on Mars” is not hard to follow, but there is an air of pretentiousness emanating from the unwillingness to embrace its DNA of modernized drive-in creature feature. When a reanimated corpse wearing a spacesuit thrusts a whirling power drill into another astronaut’s gut, any claim to being something more sophisticated than classic undead horror is effectively relinquished. Just because the dialogue did its homework on cellular biology does not by itself make the film a smart monster movie.
Based on Sydney J. Bounds’ short story “The Animators,” “The Last Days on Mars” chronicles an ill-fated research expedition on the red planet that uncovers bacteria capable of turning a human host into a corpse-like creature. One by one, the eight astronauts on hand succumb to the virus, mutate, and spread the infection by attacking fellow spacemen and spacewomen in a “28 Days Later” rage of inhuman savagery.
The saving grace preventing “The Last Days on Mars” from falling into a complete pit of rehashed scenes stitched together from better movies is an impressive assembly of names led by Liev Schreiber and Elias Koteas. That onscreen talent trickles from the top all the way down to Olivia Williams’ pitch perfect portrayal of a contemptible ice queen on the supporting cast side. Their characters are mostly recycled personalities, but their performances lend much needed freshness to the too familiar material.
Although the filmmakers have clearly seen countless zombie films before, nobody on this Mars mission has seen even one. Viewers may fall behind when it comes to the film’s overly scientific details, but the Aurora crewmembers are the ones playing catch up while seemingly lacking in the undead knowledge everyone else gleaned from 50 years of horror cinema since “Night of the Living Dead.” Characters run through a predictable checklist of seen before reactions including denial that they will mutate after being exposed, conviction that someone infected can become human again, and the usual pushing of someone else into the fire to save one’s own skin.
“It can’t be how it looks. There must be some explanation for this,” says one astronaut. Crewmembers can panic, rack brains, and drop jaws in shock all they want. When one of them is bitten, everyone on the cushioned seat side of the screen knows exactly what is coming next, even if the movie wants to pretend there is still some suspense to be had in the revelation.
The film looks good, has a terrific acting pedigree at its forefront, and wants badly to be respected as a poor man’s “Alien” meets “The Walking Dead.” Those are sound intentions and worthwhile qualities wrapped around a core of feigned frights from flashing strobe lights, yawn-inducing plot turns, and overused concepts as a battery powering the whole endeavor. It is not true that if you’ve seen one zombie movie, you’ve seen them all. But if you have seen one zombie movie, then you have seen “The Last Days on Mars.”
Review Score: 55