Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cannes 2013: Last Days on Mars Review

Director: Ruairi Robinson

Writer: Clive Dawson

Starring: Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams, Johnny Harris

Synopsis: A research team in their last few hours on Mars discover a deadly enemy that soon dangerously jeopardizes their lives.

Since Ridley Scott’s Alien many space exploration films have focused on perils and perdition in lonely atmospheres. Ruairi Robinson’s first feature, Last Days on Mars, is one such film clearly influenced by Scott and other works such as Event Horizon and Sunshine. It does not offer much more than what has come before it yet is an extremely impressive debut that hits all the right notes for fans of the sub-genre.

Centred on Mars explorers with a few hours left until returning to Earth, the first half of Last Days on Mars is a measured analysis of an alien terrain shot and crafted through CGI beautifully. The second half then amps up the pace once the crew become infected – still well-shot but certainly less artistic. The style that swaps from a measured character and landscape study to a fast-paced horror/thriller is not so jarring, thanks to Robinson’s clear direction and an expectation from this type of story.

How Robinson constructs the film is incredibly mature and knowing; he clearly understands genre and the parameters of CGI and practical filmmaking. For what would imaginably be a CGI-heavy and clichéd Hollywood version, Robinson’s independent production has allowed a more solemn and realistic (and therefore more frightening) take on astronauts and aliens.

The lead astronaut is Liev Schreiber, brilliant throughout though somewhat overshadowing actors like Elias Koteas and Olivia Williams, regrettably. This could alter Schreiber’s career and provide him with less supporting roles, and perhaps more leading material, as he’s a great hero to follow. He stands out as the least passé character of the group, instilling some originality.

Some parts may seem predictable and there are examples of stock characters, yet they are truisms of the genre that cannot always be side-stepped. For what Robinson is hoping to achieve (an accomplished, entertaining entry into the sci-fi horror genre) he should not be faulted; his mise-en-scène is impeccable, creating a-near flawless ambience. It is, in sum, a smartly-written, elegantly executed genre-piece. It may not inject much new blood into the catalogue of space-exploration horror but it will deservedly find its audience.

Last Days on Mars was competing in the Director's Fortnight Selection at Cannes 2013. Also published in Nisimazine Cannes 2013 (page 23)

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