During the final days of a six-month mission to Mars, Russian science officer Petrovich (Goran Kostic) discovers evidence of life, but fails to tell his colleagues on the international space station. When he ventures away from Tantalus Base to collect further samples, a crater forms and spews forth a virulent bacteria.
The microbes, it transpires, transform humans into thoroughly unconvincing-looking zombies. Who, among the sketchily drawn characters, will survive the coming intergalactic zombie onslaught? Will it be Liev Schreiber's resourceful Campbell? Romola Garai's sappy medic? Elias Koteas's concerned mission commander? Or Johnny Harris as The Cowardly One?
Irish film-maker Ruairí Robinson was nominated for an Oscar for his 2001 dystopian short, Fifty Percent Grey. His first feature, based on Sydney J Bounds' short story The Animators, has enough quality personnel attached to have merited a Director's Fortnight screening at Cannes 2013.
Unhappily, this makeweight, moderate entertainment is unlikely to please many folks outside the hardcore horror sphere. An unabashedly derivative genre piece, Last Days on Mars is packed with scenes that recall superior sci-fi horrors from earlier eras. The blood test sequences are a little bit like The Thing. An underused Olivia Williams is a little bit Ripley. This bit's Dark Star; that bit's Apollo 18.
Lo-fi sci-fi is possible in the digital age – think of Duncan Jones's excellent Moon or anything by Shane Carruth. But the budgetary constraints here tell. The space station makes you think you've wandered into a mobile-home showroom. The Martian landscape never looks like anything except Jordan, where the film was, indeed, shot. The exteriors are one paper-mâché boulders removed from early Star Trek missions to Burbank, California.
Robinson does good work with jump scares as crew members are picked off one by one. It’s enough to hold our interest, but only just. Ladies and gentlemen, we are not floating in space. More’s the pity.