(Warning! Spoilers below!)
This film started well with a clearly jaded crew of a Mars mission which is about to head home after six months on the Red Planet. The actors did a good job of showing the tensions which surely must arise from living in close confines with one another for an extended period. One thing I did think odd was that of the eight man crew, there was 1 Canadian, 1 American, 1 Russian but 5 British astronauts! This film is set in the 2040s but even so I wouldn’t the British to have such a large contingent especially given the UK’s lack of funding towards manned space flight. I can only assume that this mission is a private spaceflight but sadly the backstory isn’t really gone into.
The tension begins to build when one of the astronauts, Marko, thinks he’s found life but falls into a crevasse which conveniently opens up right beneath him. From here everyone starts to blame his partner, Harrington, for some unknown reason. If he should have been outside with him he wouldn’t have been able to save him but may have been swallowed up too. The medic, Dalby, also seems to lose her shit here, almost crying and trying to insist on descending into a bottomless pit without any thought to the wider implications. I’m not sure about the dynamics here…
It turns out that the pit contained a fungus type life form which reanimates Marko who then infects and reanimates Dalby. Following reanimation, lack of air pressure/oxygen doesn’t seem to be an issue although I would find it hard to imagine how the infected brain could get the body to respond without any blood flow. That said, it would be a short film if that would be enough to stop them I guess!
From here on in, it’s the usual thriller with survivors attempting to outlast the repeated attacks of the martian zombies. There is a fair amount of blood involved (Harrington gets a power drill to the stomach) but I was left wondering about how infection too place. Irwin seems to get infected by Brunel simply grabbing him around the neck (without breaking the skin it seemed). Lane is also infected by what appeared to be a clean pair of scissors. Is it simply airborne? In which case, they would all get it quite quickly. If it’s blood borne I’m not sure quite how some of the infections take place.
One thing I did like was that decompression seemed much more realistic. Although not a vacuum, Mars has very little atmospheric pressure and so when Lane takes her helmet off in an attempt to commit suicide her eyes don’t pop out as in “Total Recall”. She seems to struggle to breath (as you would) and her breath freezes immediately. I would have expected her eye balls to freeze slightly too but she remains relatively untouched (but I guess this could be the virus?)
The ending is depressing but realistic. It would have been too convenient for the final survivor to be completely in the clear and home free and the film leaves the ending open. But it was fantastic that the writer(s) named the lead character “Campbell” in what is clearly an homage to the legendary Bruce Campbell of “Living Dead” fame.
The soundtrack also had a few nice touches with the usual triumphant bugle calls (see “Apollo 13”) replaced their equivalents in the minor key. It made an oddly creepy mix and only added to the suspense.
Overall: A good yarn but very much a horror film set on Mars rather than with any serious sci-fi elements. Actors were fantastic (plus I have a thing for Romola Garai!) and the suspense is well built up.
Rating: 3 out of 5