The Horror Honeys: The Last Days on Mars AKA Zombies On Mars?

The Last Days on Mars AKA Zombies On Mars?

A Sci-Fi Honey Review - by Katie

The Last Days on Mars (2013)

There’s a bad cop-movie cliché I was reminded of while watching the opening scenes of The Last Days on Mars, and it involves the detective who is one week away from retirement.  If this detective talks about his impending retirement early on in the film, this last case is sure to be the case of his career.  Conversely, if he talks about the grand plans he has for his retirement, including but not limited to buying a boat and spending long sun-drenched, sepia-toned afternoons with his family, odds are he’s going to die before the film’s runtime is up.

The sci-fi genre is not immune to this formula, and for films that take place on a spaceship with a crew, this old chestnut is known as the “Last Mission” cliché.  As the title of The Last Days on Mars suggests (and an opening expository statement counts down, hilariously, to the very second that their mission ends), the crew of the ill-fated Tantalus Base is preparing to leave the godforsaken red planet after being away from home for a very, very long time.  One crewman rhapsodizes about being able to walk in green grass again; another, missing his children, talks about how he barely remembers what they look like anymore.  The problem is, for an audience all-too-familiar with the “Last Case/Last Mission” clichés, dialogue like this paints a big red target on the backs of all who date to utter these fate-damming lines.  Is it still fun for the audience if you know exactly what’s coming?

But, I can't die now! I'm one week away from retirement!
That answer is yes, in films like Alien and Moon, which both open with a mission coming to an end and crew members lamenting about wanting to go home – the difference in those films being a degree of suspense projected onto the unknown; a creature, a conspiracy.  Our unknown in The Last Days on Mars, an environmental biological agent, becomes known rather quickly, which leaves the rest of the rest of the film languishing in a run-of-the-mill “when zombies attack” narrative.

In first instance that makes you want to scream “BAD IDEA!” at your screen, two crewmen of the Tantalus Base venture out onto the barren Mars terrain to investigate the possibility of life, “one last time,” and against protocol.  Things go to hell when one of these men slips into a fissure, and the rest of the crew must spend the remaining time on their mission in a search and rescue effort.  All humans exposed to the biological agent growing in the fissure die and become “changed,” into what appears to be Caesar from Planet of the Apes in a space suit.

Damn, dirty, Martians!
As the contagion spreads, healthy people will be chased, plans will be formulated, people will turn on one another, be sacrificed, and so on.  If you’re a fan of horror or sci-fi, odds are you’ve seen a film just like this before.  There are some things working for it – the actors, including Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, and Olivia Williams, competently deliver the lines and emotion they need to convey with the material they’re given.  The Martian terrain and spaceships/base are also well-designed, but it’s somewhat disappointing that the Mars setting is ultimately incidental when it becomes just another entry in the zombie subgenre.  The zombies of Mars can especially compared to the “rage” zombies of 28 Days Later, which was a disease narrative inside a zombie movie framework.  The Last Days on Mars is a disease movie disguised as a zombie movie run through a sci-fi filter (still with me?), without any of these layers utterly failing or wholly succeeding.  It’s not good enough to be good, but it’s not bad enough to be good, either.
No caption necessary - dat jawline.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: three stars out of five, for Liev Schreiber’s stunning jawline.