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The Last Days On Mars reaction: Cannes 2013

It’s a question even David Bowie couldn’t find an answer to. Is there life on Mars? Well if Irish director Ruairí Robinson’s debut feature is anything to go by, there is indeed – and it ain’t pretty…

Nearing the end of a six month research mission to Mars, the crew of the Tantalus Base look set to return home frustratingly empty-handed. But, a mere 19 hours before their Earth-bound pick-up arrives, science officer Petrovich (Goran Kostic) finds evidence of a new strain of bacteria thriving within the planet’s surface.

Keeping his discovery to himself, he goes hunting for a live sample but is injured along the way, forcing the crew’s level-headed captain (Elias Koteas) and his troubled first officer (Liev Schreiber) to lead a rescue mission. Just who needs rescuing, however, is quickly up for debate…

Playing like an indie Prometheus without the grand concept and Giger-inspired beasties, The Last Days On Mars is a zombies-in-space movie that wears its influences on its sleeve.

From Alien (see the typed-out mission details over the film’s opening shot) to The Thing via pretty much every claustrophobic sci-fi thriller and living-dead infection horror of note, no genre cliché is left unturned as, one-by-one, the Tantalus employees fall victim to the mysterious pathogen.

But while the film’s derivative plot certainly doesn’t win any points for originality, Robinson’s solid direction (no doubt a talent to watch) ensures there’s at least an atmospheric tension – helped by some impressively ambitious production design and Max Richter’s eerily sombre score – running throughout.

The multi-national ensemble cast – led by a suitably gruff Schreiber – are also game, with Olivia Williams’ tactless hard-ass and Johnny Harris’ sniveling survivalist particularly managing to rise above their stock-character limitations.

The Last Days On Mars opens later this year.