At Elstree Studios, Olivia Williams, Liev Schreiber and Romola Garai are adorned in white space suits and busting into the red zone on the frantic-o-meter. Life on Mars is rapidly going pear-shaped and, as a comatose Elias Koteas lays before them in their spacecraft medical bay, potentially hosting some alien unpleasantness, they bicker about what to do next. The scenario is fraught, the shooting pace brisk, but the mood light and jocular. No one minds that Williams keeps fluffing her lines, and she’s quick with the quips between takes. “Where do you want me, darling? On my knees?” she jokes to Irish director Ruairi Robinson, making his feature debut.
Adapted from a short story by British sci-fi author Sydney J. Bounds, The Last Days On Mars is an ambitious, freaky chiller about an eight-strong crew of astronauts who discover bacterial life on the Red Planet. No prizes for guessing that said life forms end up inflicting harm on their guests, turning them into raging zombies.
“It’s my first time in space,” Williams tells Total Film. “I’m not a big sci-fi aficionado but the drama and relationships are brilliantly drawn in this. It fucks with your expectations of sci-fi and messes with the conventions.” Schreiber, who’s been teasing Williams that she based her steely character on Hermione Granger, was impressed with how little money Robinson has needed to achieve his vision. “Nowadays, with CGI and elaborate budgets, you get overwrought films,” he says. “But this a better way to approach the genre. It has all the elements of noir, claustrophobia and anxiety.”
Robinson (his first name is pronounced raw-ree) has been building up to TLDOM for years with a string of award-winning short films. His 2002 animated short Fifty Percent Grey was Oscar nominated; his 2011 short BlinkyTM, starring Where The Wild Things Are’s Max Records, is a smart chiller about a domestic robot gone bad. To recreate Mars’ stark landscapes, he decamped with his cast to Jordan for two weeks. “Can you imagine running in this suit in the desert with a goldfish bowl on your head?” laughs Schreiber. “It was brutal, but hopefully it will all be worth it.”