“The Last Days on Mars” is the kind of movie that used to play the bottom -of-the-bill at drive-ins. Set on the red planet, it’s a sci fi thriller that b-movie king Roger Corman would have called “Space Zombies,” with at least two exclamation marks. As it stands, “The Last Days on Mars” might have been more fun if director Ruairi Robinson had embraced drive-in quality of the story and left any illusions of becoming the next Ridley Scott at the concession stand.
An adaptation of Sydney J. Bounds’ short story “The Animators,” the film begins near the end of a long mission on Mars. The exhausted crew—Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen and Yusra Warsama—is tired of being cooped up and itching to get back to earth. Days before their exit a mysterious algae is found growing on an underground supply of H2O. What should be an exciting discovery turns nasty when the two astronauts who perished making the discovery come back to terrorize the remaining crew with some bloody zombie carnage.
It all seems familiar, and it is, so the trick for Robinson was to create characters that we’d care about if they happen to get infected with alien germs and turn into bloodthirsty virus carriers. By and large he manages to up the emotional ante by casting good actors. Schreiber, Koteas, Garai and Williams elevate the b-movie story to something approaching a b-plus-movie, the plus being some real human interact during the scenes where they aren’t turning tail and fleeing hungry zombies.
There is the standard “I’ll-do-anything-to-survive-including-leaving-you-to-be-devoured” character, the hardnosed scientist type, but there’s also an interesting relationship between Schreiber and Garai that brings one of the movie’s best climatic moments.
“The Last Days on Mars” spends a bit too much time in faux Kubrick Mode before switching to full-on Corman style exploitation, but once it clicks over it’ll make your pulse race. The zombies are appropriately angry, there’s some good shocks and by the time the crew is whittled down to the essentials—that’s not a spoiler, this is a total Who’s Gonna Get It Next flick—a good hero and a nasty bad guy, it’s a bit of drive-in style fun.