Darwin On Mars. Now that’s a movie I’d pay to see. The bushy beard crammed into a helmet. The plus fours dusted with red loam.

He’d be less likely to say: “Each new species is maintained by having some advantage over those with which it comes into competition; and the extinction of less favoured forms almost inevitably follows” and more likely to say: “Aaargh, zombies. Run!”

This movie, although it has aspirations to be something more, descends into a B-movie creature feature with the first appearance of a bug-infected, desiccated former astronaut clawing at the porthole. Bacteria evolves from popsicle to body snatcher before you can say “a bit of dust never hurt anyone”.

Starts well, this Irish-UK sci-fi thriller, shot in Jordan with the blue removed in post. The foreshadowing is laid on like lumpy marmalade but characters are drawn swiftly enough.

Liev Schreiber’s Vincent Campbell strikes up a neat rapport with Romola Garai’s eager-to-please Rebecca Lane as they go and pick up hard-ass boffin Kim Aldrich (Olivia Williams) from an outpost. They natter about blue skies and green fields as they prepare for their end of tour and Campbell lists the things he’s dreading on the six-month journey home – “Kim, Kim, Kim”.

Kim is grouchy because she’s hasn’t found life on Mars. Little does she know that her rival has stumbled on “the biggest discovery in history” in a frozen lake, although his reward is less presentable than a Nobel prize.

And so, the stagey character piece is over and we’re into running and clawing and oxygen levels and friends who become dead and then become enemies. Wounded people croak “I’m thirsty. So thirsty”, and heroes bellow “You’re gonna make it!” and the DP and editor flick through their catalogue of jittery fast cuts.

Johnny Harris does a neat turn as a psychological welfare officer who has a mental collapse (yup, that’s the level we’re working at) and Williams is as solid and as ball-busting as ever.

But Schreiber is the big money focus, even though writer Clive Dawson needlessly bequeaths him an overworked claustrophobic panic-attack tendency that, as Campbell himself points out, should have been screened out during recruitment.

Even so it’s Garai who draws the eye. She is effortlessly human in an alien setting and her unresolved relationship with Campbell, although never convincing, is always touching.

Director Ruairi Robinson relies too heavily on the genre classics (sci-fi, horror and zombie) and ultimately it’s the lack of originality that betrays that initial slender promise.

The Last Days On Mars
(15) 98mins
★★★✩✩