The thing that is most compelling about Last Days on Mars is how it actually is quite vague. You never get the idea when the film takes place. The audience knows that this team -- led by Liev Schreiber’s Vincent Campbell -- has spent the last six months on Mars doing scientific work, searching for proof of life, and that it took six months for them to get there. And no spoiler here… the ending is about as indistinct as can be! But, all of that actually is a good thing and only adds to the overall tone and suspense of the film that is a good old-fashioned thriller at heart.
The title of the film says it all in terms of placing the film firmly in its plot. We meet Campbell out on an investigative dig, waiting in a transport vehicle for a prickly scientist (Olivia Williams) to finish her work. She knows that the team has less than 24 hours before they board a ship and head home to Earth. And she will be damned if the next team gets the credit for an astronomical find that her team is on the brink of. Yet, she reluctantly packs it in… swearing the whole way back to base.
Then, when a fellow scientist gets a clue as to what she was about to discover… he heads out quietly and finds what they have been looking for. Only… well, you know from the Last Days on Mars trailer, this is not going to work out very well for anyone.
Last Days on Mars’ enemy is a fascinating one. It is a virus. Our alien doesn’t come in the form of pointed ears and claws that kill. This is a villain who kills from within and worse, turns its victims into space zombies with the sole mission of killing everyone else.
Director Ruairi Robinson handles the tension with an even hand, never spilling too much of the plot and keeping the audience on their toes. The film is not for everyone. It is clearly a science fiction film that knows it is a genre movie and never tries to be anything else.
Schreiber is fantastic, getting out of his comfort zone in a film that requires him to anchor the story, while still supporting the ensemble. His character is haunted by something that happened on the way to Mars. Again, quite unclear, we never quite learn what it is. But that only adds to the suspense of what is going on because the viewer does not know what it is he is haunted by, only that it could rear its head at the most inopportune of times. Schreiber handles the subtleties of that with grace and aplomb and there is no better actor to handle such a part.
Our Last Days on Mars review knows it is unlikely there will be a sequel. Yet, Robinson manages to end the film with more questions than answers. And frankly, that’s how a solid science fiction movie should conclude. The film is firmly in the middle of the pack of the genre, not quite of Alien caliber, but nowhere near the bottom of the sci-fi barrel. As we said, fans of the science fiction world will enjoy their Last Days on Mars.