Adapted from short story “The Animators” by Sydney J. Bounds, Liev Schreiber plays Vincent Campbell, an astronaut in his final 19 hours of a six-month long mission to Mars. The team of scientists around him start to pack up ready for their long journey back to Earth when one of their number decides he needs to go and fix a remote beacon. In true space-monster film tradition, the beacon doesn’t need fixing and the scientist gets more than he bargained for in the form of a parasitic bacteria which takes over the host form, leaving the crew to fight for their lives. Yes, it’s zombie on Mars.
The Last Days on Mars is director Ruairi Robinson’s first full length-feature, and was shot on a relatively small budget of £7 million, but neither of these elements really become obvious, with finances clearly used wisely and some intelligent directorial decisions.
While the plot itself treads extremely familiar ground (indeed many scenes seem to have been lifted straight from Alien, The Thing and Sunshine), and the dialogue sometimes leaves a little to be desired, The Last Days on Mars is actually pretty entertaining. It manages to pull itself above the slew of other derivative zombie and monster flicks by virtue of a very clean design ethic and some excellent performances by the cast. It just sits somewhat awkwardly in that it is not trashy enough to be entertaining B-movie fodder, and seems to have ideas above its station in terms of its intelligence quota. It doesn’t really know what it is. Maybe it should have been titled ‘Zombie Driller-Killers in Space’, as that is, in part, what you get. Instead it has been marketed as an intelligent sci-fi horror with a quality cast. The latter part is certainly true.
That being said, having such a high quality cast gives the film an element you don’t normally see in this kind of genre picture and there are still enough moments to make you jump, and plenty of gore to keep horror fans happy. Without wishing to include spoilers, the ending is also of a type I heartily approve.
The Last Days on Mars won’t win any awards for originality, but for a low budget film by a first-time feature director it is a pretty passable effort. If you’re a fan of sci-fi or zombie films you will probably enjoy it, but it may well be lost on others.