We all know Hollywood has a fear of the Red Planet in film titles – Mars Needs Moms, Mission to Mars, Ghosts of Mars – all highly critical and commercial flops. The Last Days on Mars tries to buck that trend by being produced on a small-budget, so the risk was no doubt minimal. Unfortunately that doesn’t really help the quality on offer; it may sound and look good (the trailer gives a surprising Alien-type feel to it), but it turns out to be a cross between the latter two aforementioned Mars films. So a right stinker then.
Liev Schreiber heads a small cast that includes Elias Koteas and Brit actresses Olivia Williams and Romola Garai. They form a team of eight researchers on Mars, and, as the title states, it is their last two days there before heading back to Earth. The one thing they’re all unhappy about, however, is that they haven’t discovered a thing. That is until their Russian colleague suddenly (and rather co-incidentally) locates a place where there appears to be some sort of life festering underground. When he is accidentally killed investigating this discovery, the team soon realise that it’s not life on Mars which they should be on the lookout for – but the dead.
Director Ruairi Robinson clearly has an eye for detail and good science-fiction know-how with some impressive visuals, yet any promise shown is wiped out as soon as you realise there’s absolutely zero tension or atmosphere. Not even a tiny build-up to get the senses tingling. Despite some dramatic turn of events happening on screen, the fear or suspense that is meant to be provoked in us is rather meekly prodded. A strong score was really needed to amplify the fraught and frightening nature an isolated situation can bring – think The Thing. Instead the only scares on offer are by some erratically poor over-acting from the amalgamated Hudson/Burke-clone character.
But that is only part of the problem concerning the actors; there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between Schreiber and Garai (not really love interests but the closest thing) and also no camaraderie amongst the crew, leading us to not care for any of their fates. Having a few bits of dialogue referencing how some of them were close to getting home to see their kids is not enough to warrant our compassion.
While all’s not that bad – the special effects are good and Schreiber and Koteas are always dependable – The Last Days on Mars ultimately ends up as a well-polished, ‘zombies-in-space’, B-movie. For die-hard genre fans only.
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