The Last Days on Mars Movie Review
Written by Michel Sabourin
Released by Magnolia Pictures
Directed by Ruairi Robinson
Written by Clive Dawson
2013, 98 minutes, Rated PG-13
Theatrically released on December 6th, 2013
Liev Schreiber as Vincent Campbell
Romola Garai as Rebecca Lane
Elias Koteas as Charles Brunel
There's something added to The Last Days on Mars that has been missing from the sci-fi/horror genre recently: actual horror! They either end up not being scary at all (even if they're good) or an action movie disguised as a genre film. This movie is definitely more Alien than Aliens. You get that claustrophobic trapped feeling that a lot of space horror movies rely on to create tension, but there's more to it than that. It's also a smart film, which uses real science to sell its premise; even if it's not realistic or even scientifically accurate (this is a movie after all).
Visually, it's everything from antiseptic closed quarters in a space module to vast red planet landscapes that are enticingly open and beautiful, but offer no escape due to the confines of spacesuits. That sense of being cut adrift is a palpable character in and of itself and it doesn't let up at all. Even the clichés that go along with the space tropes are handled subtly and, more important, honestly.
Mars features several outstanding performances, not the least of which comes from Live Schreiber, someone I feel doesn't get nearly the credit he should. The reliable Elias Koteas also puts in a high quality showing as the commander of this doomed expedition. The characters behave in a very realistic fashion and aren't mere cogs moving the plot. They are a little predictable in places, but the actors giving them breath make up for a lot of those little twinges of "of course there's that guy/girl in this movie" checklist ticking we've gotten used to. Schreiber gives his character in particular a lot more depth than he would probably have in a lesser film. Flawed but noble protagonists are easier to connect to and build empathy for, and empathize we do.
What's missing is the little grey men, strangely bi-pedal aliens, alien races and monsters so epidemic to anything having to do with space, and that's quite a relief. Yes, alien creatures can be scary, but in a real to life portrayal of the universe, they're just not likely. Think of all the life-forms that inhabit the planet. Humans and other sentient life make up a very small percentage of that overall population. We're surrounded and outnumbered by billions of microbial creatures, bacteria and other organisms. So why do we not think that "life" on other planets would be any different?
And that's why Mars is a smart film. What if the first exposure we have to alien life is a virus of sorts? What would it do to us and what would we need to do to protect our world from its influence? Mars explores those answers and adds a little human drama and conflict to up the ante. It's tense and taut and the pace is pitch-perfect. There's not too much build up to lose focus and energy, nor is there too little action or extraneous lulls or expositional monologue to mar the action. It's not remotely on a par with Alien, but it's not a bad progeny either. It's a damn good and enjoyable space romp that belongs in the upper tier if not quite at the top.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.