Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Last Days On Mars

Liev On Mars

The Last Days On Mars
2013 USA
Directed by Ruairi Robinson
Playing at UK cinemas now.

Warning: Slight spoilers discussing the nature of this particular beast.

The Last Days On Mars was not a film I’d even heard of, or known was in production, until I looked at an app on my phone and found out it was playing at my local fleapit. I read a few words of synopsis about it being a horror film set on Mars but, since I have had an unfortunate internet black out for a week or so now, I have not been able to even watch a trailer for it. So I went in completely blind other than a few IMDB comments from people who were, to put it mildly, less than impressed with the film.

I’m happy to say that I don’t agree with those naysayers and that I found the film to be quite gripping in general. A taut little sci-fi thriller that borders on/strays into the realm of the horror movie.

Now I don’t usually like Liev Schreiber and Elias Koteas as a rule... except, when I think back to the films I’ve seen them in, they’ve actually always been pretty good. So I don’t really know why their names started sounding alarm bells but, all I can say is that they are both terrific in this movie... as are all the other actors and actresses involved in this project.

The film has that nice kind of “claustrophobia while roaming wide open spaces” kind of feel which you can probably only get from movies where the landscape is poisonous to you if you take off your oxygen helmet and, in some ways, the film felt a little bit like the old Hammer fun fest Moon Zero Two (reviewed here) in terms of the sense of the “humans versus the environment” kind of atmosphere created in this one... or should that be “lack of atmosphere” created in this one? Given that, you know, it’s set on a planet which doesn’t actually have a breathable one.

The Martian landscape is depicted throughout as quite yellow itself and I’m guessing they did their research enough to know something I didn’t know about the surface of the planet when you are actually situated within its atmosphere. People who like red, though, need not worry. There are some amazing sequences where control rooms are bathed in red light at various points in the running time... not to mention a certain amount of blood spilled at key moments.

The story set-up itself is extremely simple and not exactly original...

On their last day or so on Mars, a crew who have been stationed there for six months find a bacterial/viral life form. Of course, as soon as they do, one of them gets himself in trouble and gets infected by it and this has the effect of... well... turning them into crazy mixed up zombies. Except only in appearance because, unlike the zombies they resemble facially... as each one’s visage is turned into a nightmarish vision synonymous with zombie films over the last fifty years or so... these ones are faster (much like the pseudo-zombies of 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later) and they retain the intelligence and reasoning of any sentient life form. Even so, they still want to, well... “kill all the humans” and that is what they start to do, by violence and then infection as our heroes and heroines are pitted against both the rudimentary problems of staying alive on Mars without an abundance of air while simultaneously avoiding violent encounters, and fending off each other from all manner of arguments and personality clashes in the process. You need a good ensemble cast to be able to pull off something like this well and, thankfully, the director Ruairi Robinson got one.

As I said, it’s really nothing special in terms of either originality or in terms of finding ways to surprise or interest the audience, in most respects. Thankfully, though, it really doesn’t have to be as, even though we think we know the probable outcome of the movie, it’s really well executed and the intensity of some of the scenes is spot on. The mise en scene is, again, not particularly attention grabbing, but it’s certainly very competently handled and, despite a lot of hand held camera work, there is a certain sense of beauty and simplicity within the way some shots are framed and edited together.

The musical score by Max Richter, too, is very good... treading a fine line between minimal space atmospheres, high pitched noodlings that act in the subconscious like certain elements of the Blade Runner score, and some full on majestic melodies at key points. I’d love to get a CD of this to have a proper listen but, so far, all I can see is an MP3 album knocking around.... which frankly isn’t good enough. The companies should be investing in their scores and putting these out in shops on CDs for people. Not making them take up valuable real estate on their potential customer’s computers. This score needs a decent release!

So there you have it... a nice film set in base camps, surface buggys and the Martian landscape, which uses the mystery of the possibility of some kind of life on Mars as a lead in to a quite claustrophobic and relatively edgy sci-fi thriller. It’s not new but it is neat and I thought the director, cast and crew did a wonderful job on it. If you’re into old school science fiction concepts, ripped from a plethora of old 1950s science fiction short stories, then you’ll probably have a great time with what is, basically, a zombies in space movie. I know I’ll be grabbing the Blu Ray of this one fairly soon after it gets released.

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