After The Europa Report and of course Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity we have been spoiled this year with documentary-style science-fiction. You can now add ‘The Last Days on Mars’ to that list as well, though this movie straddles between sci-fi and horror. The Last Days on Mars is directed by Ruairi Robinson who gets to make his first full feature outing at the cost of Irish and British taxpayers. Luckily the movie is quite good even if it is a bit predictable. Both Liev Schreiber and Romola Garai shine as they try to deal with a mysterious plague that turns their crew into zombies just before their return from a 6 month expedition on Mars. The Last Days on Mars has had bit of a unpredictable release schedule, but you can see it now in the UK but people in the US will have to wait until December 6th to see it in cinema’s.
Last Days on Mars
A research crew of eight inhabiting the Tantalus Base outpost on Mars are just over 19 hours from the completion of a six month mission and a rendezvous with the lander Aurora, which is due to return them to their main orbiting craft. From there they face another six months in space before arriving at Earth.
The scientist Marko (Goran Kostic) has samples that may point to life on the planet. Without letting the rest of the crew know he devises a ruse for one last sojourn on the surface with crewmate Harrington driving a rover vehicle to the spot he had found the anomaly. Having obtained soil with the biological agent present he is about to return to the rover before being swallowed up by a fissure. Various crew members converge on the scene and, although assuming Marko dead, plan to explore the pit that has been created to retrieve his body. Crew member Dalby (Yusra Warsama) remains at the scene but disappears before the team can return with equipment. Led by captain Brunel (Elias Koteas) and Vincent Campbell (Liev Schrieber) the pit is eventually explored and some sort of life is present and growing.
Meanwhile Dalby and Marko reappear at the main outpost having been mutated by the Martian biological agents: they are now fast, aggressive, and zombie-like with blackened skin and no trace of their original personalities. Astronaut Harrington is killed with a power drill and the other crew attacked. The bulk of the movie’s middle section is taken up with fights and escapes from the zombie beings through the habitat modules of the Martian base. Brunel is hit and injured by one of the zombies with a pickaxe, dies, and reanimates with the infection. The scientist Kim Aldrich—who had often infuriated her crewmates—is deliberately left to die by Irwin (Johnny Harris) who emerges as the most self-serving of the crew. Rebecca is also injured.
Eventually three crew members flee the base on a rover with zombies in chase: Vincent, Irwin, and Rebecca (Romola Garai); heading to the landing site, the rover almost runs at out of power. The groups decides to go and switch over to the other rover which had been left almost fully charged. Under the pretense of a scouting operation Irwin steals the second rover arguing that Rebecca is infected due to the wound. Waiting for the sun to rise and the batteries to recharge through the solar panels, Vincent falls asleep and Rebecca eventually flees from him knowing that the same fate awaits her; having woken up he goes after here when she turns to a zombie and he is forced to kill her. The action concludes with Vincent and Irwin separately converging on the Aurora lander. The landing crew is killed by zombies and a clearly infected Irwin initiates a launch. Vincent kills him and ejects him out of the ship after it has reached a planet orbit but he is then troubled by a tiny cut on his face.
The movie ends ambiguously: Vincent leaves a time delayed message for mission control saying he does not have enough fuel for a rendezvous but that supplies aboard can last for months if they want to launch a rescue. He argues that this may not be advisable as he may be infected himself; the picture fades out and the movie ends before the time needed to get a reply has passed.
I like this movie more than I did The Europa Report. That movie was at times too fanciful and too melodramatic, though LDOM suffers on that lasts score as well. Much is left ambiguous about the bacteria that infects everyone. Romola Garai’s character Rebecca is supposedly killed by Vincent near the end but that means the zombies are at least killable. The question then is, why weren’t the others killed? Surely after dozens of movies and video games it was one of the worst fights against zombie domination ever. LDOM ends in a similar fashion as The Europa Report, that is. It ends in a sad fashion that kind of makes you wish you hadn’t seen the movie to start with.
The characters of LDOM shine during certain moments when the actors can pour something unique into a situation. Nonetheless, for the most part the wooden characters get in the way of the movie reaching its conclusion. Besides the excellent performances of Liev Schreiber and Romola Garai I will also mention Olivia Williams as Kim Aldrich and Elias Koteas as Charles Brunel as two actors who with their depth of acting makes this a much better movie.
I am glad the movie didn’t do a Vincent and Rebecca love plot but the slight sexual tension makes their interaction a lot more dynamic and meaningful. The rest of the cast adds little to the movie mostly on account of cardboard cutout characters they need to portray.
The special effects of movie are decent, it gets the job done without at any time seeing something ‘fake’ like in The Europa Report or Moon for that matter.
I personally doubt this movie will have a sequel despite the unanswered questions. As such it makes viewing it feel just a little bit futile. The cinematography of Jordan as a stand in for mars is just beautiful. Just like the director intended you feel drawn to the Mars. Just don’t open the airlock when something is fishy.
Score; 7/10. Better than the Europa Report, but not by much. just go watch Gravity instead.