This year for science fiction looked to perhaps be one of the best years in a long time. Heading into the year, there seemed to be a lot of promising science fiction films, from the big time blockbusters, to the smaller indies. While some of these were well-liked, I have mostly been unimpressed by the lineup. Films like Elysium, Star Trek Into Darkness, After Earth, and R.I.P.D. (yes, that box office dud), seemed to have some promise in their own ways, but really did not follow through with that promise, either being decent but unspectacular, or huge bombs. Although, the science fiction independent films have been quite good.
Underrated science fictions films like John Dies at the End, Mr. Nobody, and Europa Report were all solid films, achieving their respective ambitions with much lower budgets. Ever since films like Moon were able to be so good with such a small budget, filmmakers have seemed to found inspiration, pushing their budgets to their limit to create good science fiction. The Last Days on Mars tries to be another attempt to create a good low-budget science fiction film, but does not quite hit the mark.
The Last Days on Mars follows a team of astronauts nearing their final days on their expedition on Mars. Suddenly, a secret threat has come, risking the astronauts’ discoveries and their own lives.
Visually, there is a lot to admire from this film, especially considering its cheap budget. First time director Ruairi Robinson and his production team did a fantastic job of maneuvering around that budget. The Mars look seems accurate, and the movie never has one of those moments where the film feels cheap. By keeping the film in more closed-quarters, the filmmakers were able to disguise the low budget, but without it being obvious.
The film’s lead Liev Schreiber has always has been viewed as overrated in my eyes. While he has had a few good roles like in the hockey comedy Goon and television show Ray Donovan, he has largely been bland in a lot of studio action films like Salt and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Here, Schreiber does a solid job, with a performance that allows him to show off a bit more pathos. It’s apparent that he is putting a lot of effort in, and he overall does a solid job.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the film is its ending. While I wont get into details about what happens, the ending overall leaves the film on a pitch perfect note, fitting the film perfectly. The end is nothing new, but executed very well. It shocked me how good the ending of the film was, because the rest of the film was nowhere near as good.
The film really does nothing new, often making the narrative feel very familiar. As the film starts, throughout its first third that sets up the story, it was really tough to get too invested when everything felt like a total retread. Even with the rest of the film, the movie very much goes through similar beats as other classic survival horror films like Aliens. First time writer Clive Dawson should have been a bit bolder here, because this just felt like a shameless retread story-wise.
While Liev Schreiber was quite good, the rest of the supporting cast was quite bad. Filled largely with respected European actors like Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, and Johnny Williams, the cast really does a poor job with their performances. While it’s not entirely their fault (I’ll get to that later), they really had trouble conveying their respective characters, especially when they were holding the screen alongside Schreiber.
Another area where the screenplay suffers is how predictable the film is. This also plays back into how cliche the narrative is, but the film overall has very few surprises. The audience knows from the start which characters are going to die, and which will probably last for a long time. By following this kind of formulaic story structure, it takes away all of the surprise the a film, and for a thriller, that is a major flaw.
As far as dialogue goes, the script is atrocious. Dawson’s screenplay gives these characters basically just different variations of science procedural lines with a mixture of yelling and screaming in fear. These lines do not have the natural flow that a human conversation has, making conversations between characters stilted and dull. Sure, the actors in their respective material did not help much, but poor dialogue makes their poor performances understandable, as the actors were not getting much help, either.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
This was not shown in the trailer, but has already been talked about to death throughout other reviews, but just to let people on the fence know, the threat in this film is… space zombies! Really, yes, fucking space zombies. When I first saw that these creatures pop up on screen, it just led to me bursting out with laughter. This is just such a product of a lack of creativity, seriously. When you make a science fiction film, an oyster of ideas is in the writer’s hands, and they chose this!
These zombie creatures don’t even have any continuity to them. There are scenes in this film where the zombies act like your regular zombies, and then there are moments where they are able to use drills and scissors to kill people. It’s appalling to see such inconsistencies; the fact is that not only is this threat so banal, but that Dawson can’t even develop it to be coherent to an audience.
It has a few promising moments, but Last Days on Mars is a largely lazy and forgettable effort, that quickly turns from survival horror to a silly campfest.
Do a Shot: for space zombies!
Take a Drink: to any horror movie cliche.
Do a Shot: for each predictable character death.