Writer/director Ruairi Robinson made a bit of a name for himself online with his short film Blinky (watch it Last Days on Mars, has premiered here in Cannes and keeps Robinson locked in the sci-fi realm, but this time he has a bigger budget and some bigger names in tow. The end result is a visit to the red planet with a story far from unique, but in the “midnight movie” kind of way it tends to satisfy just enough for On Demand consideration.
The story takes place during the final hours of a six month mission to Mars. The final checks are being done and some are looking forward to getting home, while others wish they could stay longer and some are merely indifferent. However, one of the eight astronauts is especially interested in sticking around just a little longer to check out what may be the first signs of life on the planet yet. Hoping to get all the credit for the find, he ventures out without telling anyone the reason why, but unfortunately once he arrives the ground gives way taking him with it.
What follows is essentially a zombie film in a sci-fi setting. Nothing more, nothing less.
I read the synopsis before walking into the film and was expecting some sort of psychological thriller rather than a straight-forward horror. I thought/hoped I’d be getting something with a cabin fever angle, mixed with fear of the unknown and known alike. However, once the first infected crewman returns as a skull-faced screaming monster I settled in, understanding what the rest of the film would entail, but at the same time was disappointed it wasn’t something more.
The cast Robinson assembled is perfectly serviceable, and you can see hints of films such as Romero’s Dead franchise, the Alien films and The Thing, not only inspiring Robinson’s plot, but how to establish and use his characters. Liev Schreiber gets the majority of the film’s face time, but both Olivia Williams and Romola Garai play larger roles as strong female characters that aren’t simply along to serve as pretty faces. The rest of supporting cast includes Elias Koteas, Johnny Harris, Goran Kostic, Tom Cullen and Yusra Warsama, none of which stand out to warrant any major amount of attention.
Where the film does excel is visually, though I’m sure Robinson will end up losing a few points for the opening dust storm after something similar was just seen in Prometheus. But the end result is effective in selling scope as well as the team’s familiarity with the landscape as they hardly budge at seeing such a sight.
I can’t seem to find budgetary figures outside of articles calling it “low-budget” or “mid-budget”, but suffice to say this isn’t carrying a blockbuster size dollar figure and Robinson and his team have done a great job creating a vision of the future and a Mars landscape you can believe that doesn’t disrupt the narrative flow. In fact, the film itself isn’t in any way problematic, it simply doesn’t do anything new.
Considering it’s only Robinson’s first film there’s no shame in doing something ordinary. His second film is one to look out for, however. Can he improve on what he’s done here? Has he gained the confidence to reach further? We’ll see.