The Last Days on Mars (2013)
★ / ★★★★
With only nineteen hours left of their mission on Mars, a research crew of eight, led by Brunel (Elias Koteas), are supposed to be wrapping things up by checking that everything is working properly for the crew planned to take their place. But Marko (Goran Kostic) notices something under a microscope: evidence of bacterial cell division. Along with Harrington (Tom Cullen), they go to the site where the samples were acquired. But these are no ordinary bacteria. They have the capability to infect a host, take over completely, and attempt to kill and infect the next living being.
“The Last Days on Mars,” based on the screenplay by Clive Dawson and directed by Ruairi Robinson, is a big disappointment because by the end it is reduced to a standard slasher picture with no brain and little ambition. Despite a premise that I have weakness towards—people discovering something bizarre and horrific in a foreign environment—I found myself incredibly bored. It should have ended around the forty-five minute mark.
The latter half is junk because there is no mystery or real emotion. It is simply all about who will get infected next. Why is that interesting? When someone eventually does get exposed to the bacteria, it is neither executed nor accomplished in a manner that is willing to surprise us, move us, or scare us. What is the point?
At times the images are too dark so it is difficult to appreciate what is supposed to be curious or terrifying. The story takes place on another planet. It is science fiction on the surface but we rarely experience the feeling of wonder, its core is a horror film but the visuals are so unexciting and shot in a painfully ordinary way that we feel nothing for the events that are unraveling. The trek to the final scene is most interminable.
I guess the heart of the picture is supposed to be the friendship between Campbell (Liev Schreiber) and Lane (Romola Garai). What they share has a romantic undercurrent but since we are not given sufficient information about their connection prior to the discovery of the bacteria, I could care less about what would become of them. Are they worthy rooting for because they are “nice” and always willing to save the crew even those who have become infected? I found them boring. I liked Kim (Olivia Williams) precisely because she is the opposite. She is direct, smart, and often comes off as uncaring. Many of the characters require more friction, a bit of sauciness to create a semblance of intrigue.
Based on the final product, I guess the film’s goal is to appeal to people who just want to be entertained by watching characters on screen get killed. But I say we deserve a little more than a pessimism. The research crew has come across one of the greatest discoveries of mankind. Why play the story small and safe?
★★ / ★★★★
Russ (Tom Cullen) was a gay man with mostly straight friends. After attending his best friend’s party, Russ decided to go to a gay club with hopes of hooking up with a stranger. After attempting to make eye contact with several men as a signal he was willing, Russ eventually encountered Glen (Chris New). Morning came and the two engaged in their first real conversation over coffee. They liked each other enough and thought what they had was worth exploring. But, initially without Russ’ knowledge, Glen was supposed to head to Oregon after the weekend and live there for two years to study art. They now had to make a decision whether their one night stand was viable enough to turn into a relationship. Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, “Weekend” could easily, even understandably, appeal to those craving for realistic stories about gay lifestyles. There’s just not that many of them. Great ones are rarer still. The casting was good given that neither looked like a chiseled Adonis. In fact, their appeal was in embedded in the ordinariness of their looks. In return, we were forced to look within–their personalities, motivations, and perception of the world. Given that neither looked like a steroid-obsessed, stereotypically dominant beefcake or a stick-skinny twink, the sex scenes, mostly unnecessary, held a certain honesty: the unshaven corners, fat hanging about the torso, and wrinkles unhidden by make-up. Having the camera so up close to their bodies and faces, we could easily get the sense that the two had just had sex. Like in reality, the morning after is usually far from glamorous. Most of the time, you just want to jump in the shower to wash the night away. However, despite my best efforts, I felt no spark between Russ and Glen. It was critical because they were supposed to be increasingly attracted to one another over the course of the film. The reasons why they wanted to take their relationship on another level weren’t at all clear. Glen was condescending to Russ. He was repulsed by the fact that Russ didn’t like to kiss or hold hands in public as heterosexual couples generously often do. Because of this, he was convinced that Russ was not comfortable with being a homosexual. I was extremely annoyed with what he represented because he felt it was his prerogative as an out and proud gay man to constantly remind people that he was gay. To him, being ostentatiously gay was tantamount to being comfortable with his sexuality. No, it’s not. It means you’re being obnoxious. In the end, Russ subtly accepts that ideology. The supposedly sweet ending left a bitter taste on my lips. It sends the wrong message to audiences, especially to LGBT youths who are still deciding how they want to live their lives. Furthermore, the constant usage of drugs was an issue I had due to its mixed messages. I found it ironic that the two men were supposed to be connecting with one another through sex and deep conversation while snorting cocaine and smoking marijuana. How can you really get to know someone while being under the influence? All the discordant factors and hypocritical implications made me feel angry. While I understood Russ’ loneliness and the dangerous lengths he would go to assuage that emotion, the rest lacked practicality. It’s a shame because I do have friends like Russ who engage in casual sex with strangers and experiment with all sorts of drugs. The film implies that such a lifestyle is A-OK. It’s certainly not okay when you hear news that your friend has contracted HIV or died from overdose.