October 24, 2013. Man’s exploration into the nether regions of outer space remains a constant fascination that, for some, drives the engine of what is possible. For others, the online community becomes the playground that galvanises amateurs and professionals alike in the language of unidentified flying objects. And still another fascination is manifested in the celluloid realm as our exploration of space on film provides that X-factor that takes us there. In the Sci-fi genre the crisis for survival frequently looms large, and nowhere does it loom larger than the eerie isolation experienced in Director Ruairi Robinson’s “The Last Days on Mars”.
The year is 2036, the Mars mission is winding down and it’s showing. Frayed nerves are exposed with contested banter being waged in confined spaces as the crew of Tantalus Base make that last push to tie-up loose ends before the relief ship Aurora arrives. This is easier said than done as competing research initiatives fight for time and resources and the potential spoils that may come with a new discovery. This international crew helmed by Captain Charles Brunel (Elias Koteas), tries to keep an even keel as manipulative Marko Petrovic (Goran Kostic), convinces Brunel the importance to the mission of fixing a remote sensor which he uses as a ruse to cement a potential bacteria discovery. His discovery is short lived as he falls into a crevice along with the fossilized evidence of bacterial life and the first of many hideous mutations begins.
The ensemble cast including Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Tom Cullen, and Yusra Warsama are fully invested in making it out alive and skirting this mutating dance of death. Yusra really needs to work on her two-step. The internally conflicted Vincent Campbell (Liev Schreiber), who’s struggling mightily to control his own emotions as each member of his valued crew succumbs, must now take the helm. With the vast expanses of the Jordan desert depicting the hyper-real landscapes on Mars juxtapose to the claustrophobic interiors on Tantalus Base, Director Ruairi Robinson has created a surreal dynamic of freedom mixed with fear in competing frames. The metaphoric play of the Everest high dust banks serving as churning caldrons of impending doom feature smartly as the clouded images in the mirror are not only closer than they appear, but are not even who you think. From the original short story, The Animators by Sidney J. Bounds, Clive Dawson has penned as intellectually heady Sci-fi with a slick zombie twist. Factor in the time element of the relief ship combined with the quickly dissolving base station and an added extraterrestrial dread kicks in.
Verdict 4.5 out of 5: “The Last Days on Mars” successfully served up a clever and suffocating amalgam of gritty imagery in this Sci-fi journey. Robinson makes a strong play for capturing the realism of this desperate crew being left to their own devices as the survivalist paradigm is heightened. Classic images of glacial floating crew members and theatrical fantasy plays are replaced with infectious transformations and mounting Everest storms with strong visual appeal. The dizzying indiscernible fight sequences within the base station are the only missteps in an otherwise coherent thriller. Kudos must be given on the strategically placed Aliens nod which plays effectively as the early warning radar grid flashes the unidentified closing in and the scheming Johnny Harris acting every bit the part of Paul Reiser character Carter Burke is an equally nice turn. With The Last Days on Mars . . . the chase is on.
Final Though: A glimpse into horror begins with the first step.
Genre: Sci-fi, Thriller
Country: UK, Ireland
Official Selection: 2013 Cannes Film Fest – Directors Fortnight
Director: Ruairi Robinson
Writer: Sidney J. Bounds (Short Story) Clive Dawson (Screenplay)
Producers: Andrea Cornwell, Michael Kuhn
Release Date: October 2013
Runtime: 98 Minutes
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen, Yusra Warsama, Patrick Joseph Byrnes, Lewis MacLeod