Adaptation Film Review

Red Dead Film Review: The Last Days on Mars

March 13, 2014Ben Mk


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Astronauts vs. Zombies

By Ben Mk

You can apply the old adage, "Curiosity killed the cat", to almost any film in the sub-genre of sci-fi/horror — whether it's the sci-fi classic, Alien, it's spiritual successor, Prometheus, or the underrated Event Horizon. Because more often that not, it's not trouble that finds us, we find it. After all, intrepid explorers charting new frontiers in the name of science are likely to encounter something unpleasant in their boundless quests for knowledge; it's simple mathematical probablility. And in The Last Days on Mars, that's precisely what happens, when a scientific expedition to the red planet yields a discovery that none of the crew expected — one that none of them might survive.

The film begins as many a film in the genre does, with the broad strokes of a space mission on the verge of going awry. In this case, it's the Aurora Mars Mission 2, a six-month long geological endeavor on the surface of Mars that's on its final, uneventful leg. With less than twenty hours remaining until they're scheduled to begin their long journey back to Earth, Chief Systems Officer Vincent Campbell (Liev Schreiber), medic Rebecca Lane (Romola Garai) and geologist Kim Aldrich (Olivia Williams) are racing an approaching sandstorm — one that has ruined all hope of making any last-minute discoveries before their departure — back to their Tantalus base camp. Little do they know that one of their colleagues (Goran Kostic) has managed to make a ground-breaking discovery; and while they return to the relative safety of the base, he and another crew member (Tom Cullen) depart it to collect their prize. Their prized finding, however, ends up being something wholly terrifying and seemingly unstoppable — a virulent strain of bacteria capable of completely overtaking its host, and even reanimating dead tissue. What follows is par for the course, as one by one, the deadly alien parasite consumes the eight-person crew (which also includes Johnny Harris, Yusra Warsama and Elias Koteas) — and then, one by one, the infected (and essentially undead) crew members return to wreak terror on the remaining survivors.

In adapting the film from author Sydney J. Bounds' 1975 short story, The Animators, director Ruairi Robinson and screenwriter Clive Dawson keep its premise simple, by choosing not to expand the scope of the story, maintaining the film's tight focus on the mission's crew and their fraying nerves. It's an effective narrative approach for a tale of horror such as this, and one that we've seen before — most notably in Ridley Scott's seminal classic, Alien. Supplant that film's diverse crew of space truckers and their anthropomorphic, extraterrestrial nemesis with this one's internationally diverse crew of scientists and their parasitic foe, and the similarities in structure, tone and theme become apparent.

There are even callbacks to select scenes from Alien, such as Dallas' crawl through the Nostromo's ventilation shafts and Kane's demise at its dinner table. But Robinson and Dawson prevent The Last Days on Mars from feeling like a re-hash by establishing a credible set of personalities among the crew, affording ample opportunity for pyschological exploration. In this regard, the group dynamics play heavily into the terror, as each crew member brings to bear some aspect of the human psyche — be it paranoia, compassion, arrogance or guilt — so that each successive demise acts almost as a metaphor for the crumbling of their collective state of mind.

But when all is said and done, the film simply boils down to a tale of astronauts versus zombies on Mars — a concept that caters perfectly to the pulpy aesthetic of the source material (which first appeared in the anthology Tales of Terror from Outer Space). And although it doesn't quite reach the gory heights of other zombie epics, like AMC's The Walking Dead, The Last Days on Mars doesn't disappoint either, throwing enough rousing and suspenseful zombie-on-human action at viewers that they should come away from the film with their thirst for bloody carnage sated.

The Bottom Line

The Last Days on Mars certainly fits the mold of sci-fi/horror, and though it may not shatter that mold, it's perfectly comfortable in its own skin. Suspenseful, thrilling and with a niche appeal that's sure to earn it a cult following, it's rightfully deserving of a place in the pantheon of zombie-horror films. And who knows, perhaps it will even help spawn a whole new sub-genre — because as this film proves, we could do with more movies about zombies in space. [★★★½]








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