Sci-fi thriller The Last Days on Mars is now playing at Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley. The film stars Liev Schreiber as part of a crew of astronauts on the first manned mission to Mars in search of signs of life. After one astronaut discovers evidence of fossilized bacteria on the final day of the mission, the safety of the crew quickly becomes compromised.
The threat is introduced just as the sun begins to set, and tension rises as the tone of the film shifts from sci-fi space adventure to survival horror. Borrowing tropes from zombie infection films and reintroducing them in an extraterrestrial context makes for an interesting concept. However, the film takes itself too seriously for the lack of original insights it provides. The low-budget visuals are captivating at times, but are unfortunately paled by those from this year's previous space thrillers such as Europa Report and Gravity.
The acting is convincing enough, with strong performances from Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Romola Garai. The implausible scenario does reach some frightening and exhilarating points, but never becomes particularly surprising or inventive. Unlike the best survival horror stories, we never become invested in the characters enough to care about who lives and who dies. Olivia Williams plays a tired and cranky crew member who frequently butts head with the rest of the crew, including a particularly nervous astronaut played by Johnny Harris.
This movie does successfully combine elements of both science fiction and horror, and will not be disappointing to casual fans of each genre. However, jaded fiction buffs waiting for the next intellectual triumph or edge-of-your-seat thrills may want to look elsewhere. While the astronauts in the film break new ground on the surface of Mars, the film fails to do the same for the genre. Nevertheless, The Last Days on Mars is a well-made film, bringing a much bloodier end to this year's run of thrilling space movies.
The Last Days on Mars is directed by Ruairi Robinson. It is rated R.