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The Last Days on Mars – film review

September 24, 2015

THE LAST DAYS ON MARS

Modest debut heralds the arrival of an exciting new genre visionary.

last days on mars vehicle

A UK-Ireland co-production. Directed by Ruairi Robinson. Screenplay by Clive Dawson, based on the short story ‘The Animators’ by Sydney J. Bounds. Starring Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Goran Kostic, Johnny Harris, Tom Cullen, Yusra Warsama and Olivia Williams. Year of release: 2013. Running time:     98 minutes.

While searching for microbial life on the red planet, a team of scientists find what they are looking for – with dire results – as, one-by-one they succumb to a rage-inducing bacteria which also has the nasty effect of re-animating the dead.

Imagine the premise of John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars (sans the goofiness) crossed with the sumptuous visuals of Red Planet and this is essentially what         Ruairi Robinson has delivered with The Last Days on Mars. A filmmaker based in Ireland, Robinson had directed a number of short films and animations – one of which was nominated for an Oscar – prior to helming this, his first feature. And for a debut feature, Robinson’s direction is remarkably solid and displays a keen sense of narrative pacing and attention to detail. And it is these attributes, coupled with his confident and very particular visual sensibilities, which makes him a visionary filmmaker to watch.

Based on the short story ‘The Animators’ by noted British sci-fi author Sydney J. Bounds (published in 1975) – the tightly-paced screenplay by Clive Dawson provides just enough character depth to make us care about these people and become invested in their fates. Liev Schreiber’s character, for example, suffers from PTSD (due to a traumatic incident he experienced on the flight to Mars) which pays off as one would expect towards the end, while creating some nice character moments between he and Romola Garai’s character. And everyone in the cast takes their roles seriously, lending the film a tone similar to that of Duncan Jones’ Moon (a film which, it seems, has been highly-influencial on many hard science, off-world-set, low-budget sci-fi movies since its release in 2009).

Last Days displays production values way beyond its ten million dollar budget. The visual effects by Ireland-based VFX company Screen Scene are flawless – so flawless in fact I had no idea the rover vehicle which features so prominently wasn’t anything but a full-scale practical – only learning later (via the VFX breakdown special feature on the disk) that it was almost entirely CG (aside from the cab which was a full-scale mock-up carried around Jordan on the back of a flatbed truck).

My only real issue with Last Days is that (much like Roger Christian’s surprisingly similar Stranded) the filmmakers do seem somewhat coy in depicting the requisite graphic violence – flesh-chewing and the like – usually associated with zombie flicks. Alongside gore-soaked horror fare of recent times (the remake of The Evil Dead     being a prime example) – Last Days is rather tame in comparison – lacking a much-needed visceral punch which would elevate it beyond its ‘PG-13-masquerading-as-R’ sensibility.

While it doesn’t pretend to present us with anything we haven’t already seen before     in terms of story, Last Days is still a well-made and serious-minded sci-fi horror with impressive visual effects and a terrific sense of atmosphere; a solid feature debut heralding the arrival of an exciting new genre visionary.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

3.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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4 Comments
  1. Is this the film that Max Richter did the score for? I’m a sucker for any Mars-based film so will look out for it. Can’t be any worse than Red Planet anyway… or Mission to Mars.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Yep – it sure is the film Max Richter did the score for. I’m not really familiar with his work – as this is the first score I’ve heard of his. But I’m real keen to hear more now. I might even get a copy of it on CD if I come across it at some stage.

  2. Hmm. Great review! I noticed this on Netflix & was curious about it but didn’t really know much about it. I’ll probably check it out now. Thanks! 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Hey, no worries! It was a ‘blind buy’ for me. I didn’t know much about it myself and was pleasantly surprised. 🙂

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