Last year, Magnet released and distributed Europa Report, a gritty ultra-realistic Horror/Sci-Fi that this blogger felt was one of the best genre films of 2013. So when I heard that this same company was releasing The Last Days on Mars, another Sci-Fi Thriller, I had high hopes for a similarly taut and suspenseful experience. What I got, however, was all together different. While The Last Days on Mars attempts to create the same near-reality in terms of science and machinery, this film is actually a mash-up with a chaotic spin into modern Horror fantasy. The result: Zombies on Mars.
Read my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: Follows the story of an astronaut crew on Mars on the verge of a major breakthrough having collected rock specimens that reveal microscopic evidence of life. In their last hours on the planet, two astronauts go back to a cavernous valley on the surface of Mars to collect further evidence for their discovery, but a routine excavation turns deadly when one of them falls to his death and his body is taken as a host and re-animated by the very life form they sought to discover.
The Last Days on Mars, directed by first-timer Ruairi Robinson, is based on the short story “The Animators” by Sydney J. Bounds. Screenwriter Clive Dawson was more or less faithful to the source, adding a couple new characters and making the crew co-ed.
As colonization of Mars inches ever closer to scientific reality, it’s natural for filmmakers to postulate on the fantastic possibilities of interplanetary exploration. Along with the excitement of evolution, there are very real fears of the unknown—and those in the Horror arena are especially quick to pounce on this unease.
While no one really expects to find little green men or any confrontational entity on Mars, the fact is, we simply cannot prepare for everything. No matter how well a trip to Mars is planned out, no matter how many contingencies are taken into account, it would be arrogant to believe that nothing will surprise, challenge, or dissuade us. And that’s a point The Last Days on Mars makes in spades as an otherwise successful six-month tour is brought to ruin by a “microscopic anomaly”.
Another alarming point made in The Last Days on Mars: No matter how close you are to the completion of a task (19 hours before departure in this case) things can still go tragically wrong—without warning. Many of us remember waking up to news of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster when, after a successful mission, the spacecraft disintegrated on reentry. Add to all of this the innate isolation, loneliness, claustrophobia of space travel (along with cramped quarters in a hostile environment), and you can see that space exploration presents a cacophony of potential terrors.
Perhaps the greatest and most frightening unknown is how people will be affected by long term space travel. The truth is, no one knows what will happen to humans after prolonged time off-planet. Yes, astronauts are carefully screened for mental and physical fortitude, but there are surely unforeseen challenges. And what if it turns out that Man simply lacks the necessary endurance for space exploration? What if even the strongest examples of human potential are still ill-equipped for unknown challenges? How disenchanting would it be to discover that Man was simply never meant to leave our humble Earth? This would be a reality both disappointing and utterly horrifying–Earth as a prison.
In the film, the thrill of discovering living bacteria in Martian core samples is quickly shattered. It turns out that, when introduced into the human bloodstream, a person is quickly transformed into a violent, cannibalistic monstrosity. It’s not unlike reactions to the Rage Virus in 28 Days/Weeks Later. Those infected become highly communicable. The accompanying physical changes (black faces, decomposition) may or may not have to do with exposure to the hostile Martian atmosphere.
While the science feels sound, the actual manifestations of zombies (including reanimation of the dead) brings the film’s legitimacy down a few notches. True, we’re at a point in history where an actual zombie apocalypse seems about as likely as Martian colonization, but I found it difficult to take the film seriously the way I did with Europa Report. This isn’t to suggest that The Last Days on Mars is a B-movie (because it’s not), but it’s reminiscent of films like Pandora and Event Horizon. While those films delighted Horror fans, no one ever described them as “realistic”.
There’s not “twist” per say, but there is a mystery. Liev Schreiber (X-Men, The Omen 2006) plays astronaut Vince Campbell. For some reason, the idea of a return voyage to Earth seems more terrifying to him than dying on the Red Planet. Something happened to him on the way out, something that shook him to his core. While this “something” is never directly addressed, we are given clues in flashbacks and by observing the intense bond her feels towards fellow astronaut Rebecca Lane (played by Romola Garai). A gut-wrenching scene between these two characters serves as the emotional climax of The Last Days on Mars.
The ending lacks resolution and I can’t tell if the filmmakers are setting us up for a sequel. Still, it’s an enjoyable trip for fans of Sci-Fi and rabid zombies. Just about every film released by Magnet is above average and The Last Days on Mars is no exception.
3.5 out of 5 Skull Heads
|Release Date||October 31 2013|
|Starring||Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Tom Cullen, Goran Kostic, Johnny Harris|