There is rarely a moment when 400 Days isn’t a structural mess. There are hints of “what could have beens” early in the films process but they’re soon demolished when the midway point strikes.
Four astronauts are put into a simulation for 400 days underground to help test the effects of long term space travel before the actual mission is set to launch. Tracking human behavior when locked in a concealed space with minimal human interaction and unforeseeable challenges is, on its own, an interesting concept. Fun has been had in the past with similar concepts it would just appear that the minds behind the film didn’t seem to trust in this idea and derailed it completely. The choice to turn a chilly, science fiction film into a haphazard and lukewarm horror is baffling
As a science fiction aficionado I try to give even the smallest genre films a shot. Independent genre films embrace simplicity and run with it, using their bare bones outline to build something greater (Advantageous from last year as a wonderful example.) Bigger concepts can be explored in smaller platforms-just look at 2015’s short film World of Tomorrow which was stunning, eerie and played with idea of human enlightenment. Even The Signal from a few years back which certainly wasn’t great at least played with fun and abrupt visuals.
This is me explaining why I watched 400 Days.
My first clue that this film wasn’t going to offer me anything fresh, exciting or substantial was Dane Cook’s inclusion which really should have been a giant,blinking “don’t do it Ally!” warning sign.
Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh and Tom Cavanagh do fine jobs but it matters little when they’re given nothing interesting to do with characters who are so thinly sketched and so shallow that it’s hard to believe the writers ever moved past the generic character outline they give you in a creative writing class, filling out boxes for what the character will look like, what their thin motive will be and forgetting the rest. Matt Osterman sneaks in some cool shots on what must have been a smaller budget and there is some neat set design both inside the underground bunker and then in the third act, elsewhere, but the main problem with the film is that because the first third is just strong enough, it makes us as viewers think about all of the untapped potential. If the film had just waited and allowed the story to play out without any big reveals or jump scares it might have succeeded more.
Once you’ve moved beyond the humor of seeing half of the CW transported into one film, you do begin to wish that the characters had spent more time trying to actively flesh these characters out. The first two acts scratch at depth but never develop their characters fully enough to make us care.
By the end of the film I was left with more questions than the film was worth and, even more critically, was left with questions that should have been answered in the first act. For instance, why on earth was Theo approved to take part in the mission post four day bender? Who are these characters? Beyond Cooks frat bro personality (does he have any other setting?) The characters have no discernible personality traits. By the end of the film I am no clearer on their motives then I was at the start. There is no subliminal message and nothing and no one to latch onto. It’s an empty film that for a few moments looks cool and stylish enough to forget that everything about the film is shallow and flimsily built before you endure 90 minutes of characters pacing angrily and making questionable decisions.
400 Days is on VOD now.