The Last Days on Mars

Quick! To the hydroponic dome!
Ruairi Robinson
Liev Schreiber, Romolo Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams
The Setup: 
Well, have you ever seen Alien?

There are many questions surrounding this movie. The first, and most pressing, is how in the world did such a banal piece of utter pointlessness end up premiering at the Cannes film festival? In the Director's Fortnight? The second is, why, now, are we STILL making Alien retreads? Because they're fun and effective, I guess, but, after more than thirty years, shouldn't we try to add something? Then, as you're actually watching the film, aside from questions such "What are they saying?" and "What is going on?" you start to also ask questions like "Why would anyone make this?" and "Why was this released in theaters at all?"

This is the first feature film by Ruairi Robinson, who has previously only made short films, one of which was nominated for an Oscar. We open with credits for at least 6 production entities. Then we're on Mars, and there's a big dust hurricane, which our characters take shelter from. The point of this is obscure. Then credits, in which we learn that this is the last day of this 6-month mission, in fact we're down to the last 19 hours, and the film counts down the SECONDS, even. Given this and that the time frame is in the title, shouldn't it have some meaning to the film? Like, AT ALL? Anyway, Liev Schreiber as Vincent and Romola Garai as Lane are waiting as Olivia Williams as Kim is staying out beyond orders in order to... do... something. You will remember Olivia Williams from Rushmore and numerous other things that give you fond feelings for her, which will withstand great stress from her role here, as well as her DISTINCT resemblance to Connie Neilson in Mission To Mars [which, by the way, is a BETTER FILM]. The resemblance, and Mars setting is so apparent one almost thinks it must be a kind of reference? But WHY? You will surely remember Romola Garai as the enchantress from Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

So the team finally comes in, just as Marco wants to go back out and look at something, and gets permission from captain Elias Koteas as Brunel. I would think that with only 19 hours left, they should be packing up. Anyway, Marco and this guy that looks like Drake [Harrington] go out, and Marco says he found something, then falls in a big hole. Harrington just sits there, not sure what to do [he is a dim bulb]. Then Kim, who by the way is just a vicious ball of venom, without a kind word for anyone, breaks into Marco's work and looks at it. And--she can't believe what he's found! And the music is getting all suspenseful and momentous. And the rest of the crew is gathered around and reacting to shock! And finally, you start to be like "WHAT is happening? I don't even know what these people are doing here! WHAT are they looking at?" None of which is helped by the fact that they are all whispering, in tones oh so portentous. I often have trouble hearing dialogue at home, this was the first time I could remember being at a theater and going large stretches without being able to hear what the characters were saying. By the way, the on-the-cheap production design makes extensive use of iPads in disguising thick rubber cases.

Answers, or a semblance thereof, come just in time. And so do the TWO interesting aspects of this film, which will soon be gone for the duration. They are all there looking for life, and Marco has apparently found it. Now, interesting thing #1: they are all apparently in competition with the other in order to be the first to discover life on Mars. Seems to me like they'd get a team credit, but let's not quibble, as it provides an interesting character dynamic and reason for them to make foolish mistakes. Then there's a scene in which Kim essentially calls Harrington a dumb bunny and liver-lipped coward, and he gets pissed. This makes one think [interesting thing #2] that there's going to be some character tension here, and that perhaps Kim's extreme and outrageous bitchiness is HER unraveling after the punishing isolation of their environment. This proves not to be the case, unfortunately, and the sad reality is that Kim is just the lord queen of the uber-bitches. So it would seem that interesting thing #2 is not actually in the movie, leaving it with only one interesting thing. Which soon enough vanishes.

So Brunel and others go out after Marco, and the woman who went after him. She soon went down the cave, too, wanting to be the one to get the credit. Brunel is about to pronounce them dead when he hears that Marco found something, so they send Vincent into the cave, where he sees what is unmistakable living material. He also has a panic attack in which he sees visions of a space station. He is pulled up, and they realize that the two presumed lost are walking on foot back to the base. What may not be apparent in this retelling is just how long all of this takes, and how moments, shall we generously say, and given much time to unfold in all their lengthy glory.

So now Harrington, who wants to make up for being a coward, runs down and opens the door to the returnees. Well, as noted, he's not the brightest star in the shimmering firmament, and he lets in an angry zombie who stabs him in double-quick time. Then the zombie, who is all black and skeletal with shining eyes and quite scary, brings the attack to Kim, who fends him off in a long but effective fight. So long that you start to wonder if the movie is going to settle down again, but soon Kim is outside, with the returning team, and now they're all locked outside with the zombies inside. Then Kim, who I was still hoping was dangerously unstable, tries to ruin the door so they can't get back inside. Then, this is revealed to be the kind of movie in which someone turns and says "Okay! Let's get into the hydroponic dome!"

They repair to the hydroponic dome. But! The power outage! Which renders them unable to radio for help. So Vincent has to get into the narrow causeway to the other part, but uh-oh, panic attack again! Once again he sees visions of a space station and something about being in an airlock about to blow and--you know, guys, these visions mean nothing to me if I have no idea what they mean for Vincent. And they do nothing but distract and provide no emotional involvement. Anyway, he gets over there, fixes the thingy, and calls for help. When Vincent returns to the hydroponic dome, he's got a zombie on his tail, and suddenly the sound goes out and we have to quiet fight with quick cuts and--WHAT effect is this movie going for? Cut the excitement during an action scene, okay, but WHY?

Not to mention that there are several stretches of this film in which you simply have no idea what is going on. Or scenes edited in such a way that one really cannot follow at a basic level. And by now, all interest had faded, and it's not even fun, and it was abundantly clear that there was no reason to watch this to the end, except that I didn't really have much else to do.

So they decide that simple antibiotics, like penicillin, just might work! And they instantly narrow 50 down to one. And it works instantly! [You'll recall from your own use of antibiotics how they WORK INSTANTLY]. Oh, but then it doesn't. More attacks, some minor character interaction of interest [Kim should realize that words can have consequences], and then, toward the end, after you have completely checked out emotionally, the film starts asking, through overblown music and slow-motion and more lapses in sound, for a lot of pathos it just flat-out hasn't earned. The finale has Vincent facing his airlock-related fears [so it was a PREMONITION all along? Is THAT what you're saying?] and the movie has an ambiguous ending, the answer to which you will not give the slightest shit about.

Okay, so you know Maslow's Basic Needs Hierarchy? That states that you cannot worry about self-improvement when you are worried about just having food to eat? Well, it's a bit like that with movies, namely that: I cannot have any investment in your movie if I literally cannot tell what is going on, and why these people are doing what they're doing [not to mention: what ARE they doing?]. My only theory is that perhaps the filmmakers thought they were being arty? And deconstructing the Alien-rip-off space horror film? The sad news is that a great deal more basic competence is going to be needed before you start deconstructing anything, folks.

Yeah, so it sucked. I went in knowing full well it had gotten terrible reviews, but Alien rip-offs are often quite fun, especially if a bit portentous. But no, this one was just a bummer. It's not much fun and keeps stifling its scares and seems to turn up its nose at B-movie fun, so it's just not that much of anything. In retrospect, probably the worst thing that could have happened to this film [and its director] was to premiere at Cannes. If it hadn't, it would probably just go straight to SyFy, which is exactly where it belongs.

Should you watch it: