Twitter Plot Summary: A Martian bacteria causes havoc and zombies at the end of a 6 month mission to the red planet.
Five Point Summary:
1. It all looks very Alien.
2. It’s his own fault.
3. The carnage begins.
4. So far, so generic.
5. Bleak, sand covered finale.
Zombies in space? Sign me up. Ignoring the fact that the zombie action is surprisingly limited (and there is the argument that they’re not actually zombies), The Last Days On Mars is a competently made sci-fi chiller, although strictly speaking it should be called The Last Day on Mars seeing as all of the action takes place in the final 24 hours before the mission is due to end and tensions are high – more so because they have not made any significant scientific discoveries. As their ride home begins its final approach towards the Red Planet, one of the scientists makes a huge discovery and heads out to investigate, but it soon goes wrong and before you can shout “BRAINS!” a Martian bacteria infects some of the crew and the story degrades into typical zombie horror fare.
The effects are impressive, although if there is any major cause for complaint it lies with the script more than anything else. It never dares to do anything exciting with its setting or its characters, and despite a competent buildup to the first bit of undead action it starts to lose its way once characters start getting bumped off. Questions over whether those infected by the Martian bacteria retain their memories are raised but not explored in any detail. What are their motivations? They seem to have a desire for water but this is a plot strand that isn’t followed. There’s a couple of other strands that don’t get the attention they deserve, and once the devastation begins they are swiftly forgotten and/or ignored. Genre cliche after genre cliche is trotted out and the only difference between this and any other zombie/infected movie is that this is on Mars and not in a shopping mall or a housing estate or secret military bunker.
The direction is incredibly competent – for a first time director working with this calibre of cast the results are impressive. It would likely have scored much lower had it not been as competently cast as this – nobody involved is what you would usually consider for a science fiction role (well, ignoring Liev Schrieber and Elias Koteas for their other genre work), which gives it a certain level of gravitas. One aspect I quite liked is that the infection is gradual, that it’s like the body is trying to fight off the alien bacteria – again though, something that doesn’t get explored in any great detail, instead it’s something left for the audience to piece together. Furthermore the character motivations are made clear from the beginning, although nobody seems to be more than a basic archetype – the angry one, the emotional one, the family man, the weary commander and so on. With that said, the script does establish conflict between all of the characters from the off, and you definitely get the feeling of an expedition that is reaching its climax and everybody is very near the end of their tether.
As a showcase piece for what Ruairi Robinson can do with a basic idea, it’s a marvellous piece of work, but for science fiction/zombie horror fans (delete as applicable) it is little more than generic fare that we’ve seen elsewhere many times before.