Saturday 30 November 2013


(Ruairí Robinson, 2013)

One of those genre films that plays mainly like a compendium of memorable moments from other genre movies, this lowish budget sci-fi horror just about has enough merit to stand alone as an efficient piece of pulp hokum. That is mainly down to director Robinson, whose style is tough, direct and pleasingly classical, together with an impressive cast in roles that seem underwritten.
The plot focuses on a group of astronauts entering their last 24 hours stationed on a Mars base where they collect samples and conduct experiments. They are pretty stock types: Elias Koteas is defined by the fact that he is the leader, Liev Schreiber is the closest thing to a stock hero, with his square-jawed insistence on always doing the right thing and his heroic flaw, Romola Garai is the "normal" human being among them, Olivia Williams is the cynical, grumpy bitch, Johnny Harris the weak coward who you know will fold at the worst possible moment, their other colleagues even more forgettable.
Well, of course that last sample-collecting excursion goes wrong, and astronauts are turned into zombies, attacking their friends with power tools and anything else near at hand while the dwindling survivors desperately defend themselves inside besieged labs and tunnels. There is much business in airlocks and worry about spacesuits, and the practicalities of life on Mars - energy sources, dust-storms etc - are dealt with cleverly.
Robinson handles the scares well enough, but it never feels different enough, or distinctive enough to make that sufficient. The early scenes suggest Alien in their concentration on a group of colleagues just doing a job in an extraordinary environment, but once the genre make-up changes, the main influence appears to be John Carpenter's near-perfect The Thing, where paranoid, terrified professionals turn on one another and the dread steadily mounts. But The Last Days on Mars is nowhere near as good as those films, even when it finds the right pitch and tone as its flawed, frightened characters struggle to deal with what is happening.
The cast make these scenes work, and the film is satisfyingly bleak in its unsentimental equanimity about disposing of characters, and has a nicely ambiguous ending. With the right script, Robinson could do good work in genre cinema. This ain't the right script.

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