The Last Days on Mars
Red Planet Aaargh!
by Glenn Lovell
John Carpenter scared up ghosts. Brian De Palma unlocked another intergalactic stargate. The space cadets in “The Last Days on Mars” (now available VOD) learn the hard way that the inhospitable Martian terrain can also sustain the walking dead.
Director Ruairi Robinson makes a promising feature debut with this British-Irish co-production, an elemental yet visually arresting sci-fier starring Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas and Olivia Williams as members of the Red Planet’s second expeditionary mission, which, after four months of bickering and sample-taking, is about to begin the long voyage home.
But first — one more soil sample.
Koteas is the fatally indecisive leader of the expedition, Williams the pain-in-the-ass geologist who doesn’t want to leave. Schreiber is the mostly take-charge hero who freezes up at the most inopportune moments. England’s comely Romoa Garai plays a rookie astronaut attracted to Schreiber.
The ABC-basic script is taken from a short story by Sidney J. Bounds. It’s mostly astronauts being infected, astronauts dying … astronauts jerking back to “life” as desiccated night stalkers. That’s pretty much it. Still, genre buffs reared on England’s Hammer classics (“The Creeping Unknown,” etc.) or Mario Bava’s “Planet of the Vampires” will want to check this one out for its above-par effects, fun miniatures and nerve-jangling “Alien”-esque score by Max Richter (“Wadjda”).
The glimpses of the undead shuffle-stepping through the hellish dust storms are genuinely unnerving. And the tracking shots of the Rover ATVs trundling across the Martian landscape (actually Jordan through a red filter) are as evocative in their way as the desert panoramas in “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Our favorite line: “OK, let’s get him to the hydroponics dome!”
Lovell, longtime movie critic for the San Jose Mercury News, teaches film studies at De Anza College in Northern California. He has written about film for Variety, the L.A. Times and, most recently, Boston Globe.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS With Live Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris. Directed by Ruairi Robinson; scripted by Clive Dawson from a short story by Sidney L. Bounds. 98 min. PG-13 (for profanity, semi-gruesome zombie attacks)