Thursday 5 December 2013

LAST DAYS ON MARS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Solid Sci-Fi Thriller ViaMongrel Media at Carlton Toronto

Babe on Mars in Peril
The Last Days On Mars (2013) ***
Dir: Ruairi Robinson
Starring Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Romola Garai

Review By Greg Klymkiw

An international crew exploring Mars for signs of life have sadly come up short. In their last days, however, a natural disaster on the planet loosens up a living entity that begins to wreak unexpected havoc. Well, we do expect havoc, but the manner in which it grips the crew is deliciously, scarily unexpected. Life, of course, does not have to mean tangible upright forms - it can also be bacteria, disease and/or mutation. Whilst some might find elements of the tale derivative of Alien and/or The Thing (among others), the writing is generally infused with intelligence and strong attention to character. Besides, familiarity does not always breed contempt.

In general, the film proves to deliver on a solid ensemble cast. Liev Schreiber and Elias Koteas are both especially fine in their stalwartly heroic roles and the babes (especially Romola Garai) are extremely easy on the eyes. Olivia Williams, in a kind of pseudo-Judy-Davis-styled manner, makes her usual highly-strung urgency work nicely in the somewhat stock, but entertaining role. Of course, she's the scientist who feels her research is getting short shrift when her gut keeps telling her how close she is to a discovery. When this happens, we can be sure the thing she's looking for is just around the corner and it will neither be pretty nor benevolent.

Life on a seemingly dead planet can be bacterial.
Based upon "The Animators", a classic
short story by Britain's late, great pulp writer Sydney J. Bounds, screenwriter Clive Dawson more than adequately fleshes out the terror and wonder of the proceedings and while director Ruairi Robinson handles much of the film with solid, straightforward direction, he annoyingly resorts to the de rigueur short-shot-quick-cut-herky-jerky coverage for many of the action/suspense set pieces. This sadly detracts from their overall effectiveness, but thankfully isn't as sloppily and boneheadedly generated in bigger films that should know better. 

In spite of the fact that the film is a far cry from the brilliance of another recent space travel thriller Europa Report, it manages to be a far more engaging picture than the bloated Ridley Scott abortion Prometheus for a mere pubic hair of that picture's costs. Clearly and intentionally making excellent use of an actual desert as a filtered, stylized and CGI'd Mars is just what the doctor ordered to add production value, though it does lack the magical storybook look in the similar approach Byron Haskin took in the classic Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Though the movie inexplicably landed a slot at this year's Cannes Film Festival in the Director's Fortnight (which gave it a bit more cache than it probably deserved), it's a solid science fiction thriller guaranteed to fill the bill for those inclined. While the movie will fill said craving for this type of thing, it's not necessarily a big-screen must-see. A decent helping of this picture via VOD or some other home entertainment platform will more than suffice, but if you get a chance to see it theatrically, it will not disappoint if you're a fan of the genre.

"The Last Days On Mars" opens theatrically in Toronto at the Carlton Cinema Dec. 6, 2013.