“THE LAST DAYS ON MARS” (Movie Review)
At this point in the history of science fiction film, there’s ironically little territory left to cover in space. There’s always the option to set familiar premises or characters in the infinite abyss, but these films can feel derivative, and despite taking place on faraway planets, they often don’t feel extraterrestrial aside from the digitally enhanced environments. Being generic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and can feel uninspired rather than disappointing—which works in the favor of the rather bland THE LAST DAYS ON MARS.
The film (now on VOD and opening Friday, December 6 in theaters from Magnet Releasing) has a promising premise, as a group of Mars colonists uncover an undiscovered element that turns them into savage, undead creatures. As the infection spreads via direct contact, paranoia sets in and the survivors race to prevent the disease from reaching Earth. Unfortunately, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS suffers from the fatal flaw of being generally uninteresting, pitting an excellent cast against poor dialogue, predictable plotting and lifeless visuals. The movie is still watchable, as the moments of tension are well-assembled, but the characters all feel foreign and undeveloped, especially given the strength of the performers doing everything to add dimension and color to their roles.
Director Ruari Robinson makes his feature directorial debut with THE LAST DAYS ON MARS, and it unfortunately shows, as the storytelling is unfocused and underwritten. Many characters lack motivation, and the lack of information given about their surroundings or backstory feels closer to plot-hole territory than intentional intrigue. Clive Dawson’s script bounces from cliché to cliché, never raising the stakes as it settles for simply showing various states of unwarranted despair. Even the visual FX are blah, although given the presumably low budget, it’s nice to see a fair amount of special makeup as well.
The film is almost saved by the strength of the performances. Liev Schreiber is great as the nerve-wracked protagonist, infusing his wooden dialogue and conventional character arc with genuine emotion and believable fear. Elias Koteas shines in his smaller role as a hardened captain, conveying both empathy and bitterness. And although her part starts off conventionally, Olivia Williams sells it with fearless bravado.
However, as a whole, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS feels like a missed opportunity to blend the infection and zombie subgenres in an interplanetary setting. There’s no sense of paranoia or hopelessness that isn’t nixed by the atmosphere of confusion between the characters and their intentions. It’s not a terrible movie by any standards, but it seems so averse to exploring any original or imaginative territory that it falls deep in the shadow of the noteworthy space-set films before it.