Film Review: Mars Express (Fantastic Film Festival Australia)

Another excellent run for one of Fear Forever’s favourite film festivals. FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL AUSTRALIA 2024 brought the latest genre films to Sydney and Melbourne. Festival goers witnessed its exciting and diverse programming, from gorey exploitation horror to high-concept Science Fiction; MARS EXPRESS absolutely defines the latter.

Director-writer Jérémie Périn‘s previous work includes his TV series comic book adaptation LASTMAN. But he is perhaps most appreciated for his earlier creation, which has a huge cult following: the cosmic, body-horror music video for DyE’s dance-electric track FANTASY. His signature animation style is refined and amplified into a visually striking feature film.

It is the 23rd century, and humanity has advanced to the point that it has colonised Mars as another earth—completely industrialised, with various robots as the backbone for the new world. Private investigator/ bounty hunter Aline Ruby (Léa Drucker) and her partner, Carlos (Daniel Njo Lobé), go after “hackers” who illegally remove Androids’ servitude programming—called “jailbreaking.” When they investigate the disappearance of a college student, Aline and Carlos are thrown into an underworld that involves much more than deprogramming androids, and they become targets themselves.

I’m sure people will compare MARS EXPRESS to other Android-themed Sci-Fi films, such as the animated GHOST IN THE SHELL and the O.G of futuristic noir BLADE RUNNER. The soul of robots is a trope well-embedded in Science Fiction; I don’t think we will ever escape it due to its exploration of existentialism and human identity. MARS EXPRESS primarily involves these particular themes; nothing we haven’t seen before. But it does them well! And I suppose if audiences still love the narrative, originality is not so big a deal.

Such subject matter also reflects classism and prejudice, with robots standing in for enslaved people and androids literally not considered human. MARS EXPRESS deftly brings this allegory into the spotlight through its “jailbreaking” concept and in other ways that I will not spoil. All this being said, MARS EXPRESS is exciting enough that it deserves to be regarded on its own as a new, visually striking addition to the classic android narrative.

In terms of character building, you had better like them from the start of the film. Our lead detective, Aline, is fairly cookie-cutter, but we are introduced to her as she scales buildings, so she’s at least fun to watch. More sympathetic is her robot partner Carlos, who died while serving in the army with Aline but chose to re-begin his life as an android. His family does not take his reanimation well- his wife wants to move on with her new human partner, and his young daughter is afraid of his new appearance. It’s a cool concept that refreshes the question Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and gives us new morality food for thought.

The detective mystery in MARS EXPRESS is compelling enough. It is a pretty beat-for-beat detective film -criminal activity turns into conspiracy coverups, turns into discovering who is behind a global scale operation- which is, again, an everlasting trope. While on this trail, MARS EXPRESS adds some brain farming and illegal robot body doubles (who wouldn’t like to literally be in two places at once?!), among other technological inventions. And though it may be a child of the genre, MARS EXPRESS is much too vibrant and colourful to be a crime noir.

There is something specifically enjoyable about animated body horror that I can’t quite explain, but fans of it will understand. Maybe it’s the creative exploration of what filmmakers like Périn can do to the animated body- and for MARS EXPRESS, outer space is the limit. While primarily filled with sci-fi action sequences rather than outright gore, the elements of fleshy, biotechnological creations make MARS EXPRESS reminiscent of films like Cronenberg’s EXISTENZ. What is also great about animated horror is it is more accessible to those otherwise unwilling to explore the horror genre. I would love it if MARS EXPRESS opened up a gateway for audiences to become horror movie fans- it is entirely possible.

MARS EXPRESS fit right into Fantastic Film Festival Australia’s 2024 lineup, a pure sci-fi film where a distant planet is not only completely habitable but a preferred place to live than Earth. MARS EXPRESS takes you into an exceptionally built sci-fi world, a utopia for some, not so much for others, which is a hallmark of great futurism. Put it on your watchlist of animated features definitely not suitable for kids.

MARS EXPRESS is exciting enough that it deserves to be regarded on its own as a new, visually striking addition to the classic android narrative

3.5 tombstones out of 5
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Erin Grant

Erin Grant

Erin has been writing about films for Fear Forever since 2017; to say she is passionate is an understatement. You can find her in Sydney, Australia, where she lives on a steady diet of horror movies whilst perpetually being in the middle of a film degree.
You can reach her at

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