Movie Review: 400 Days (2015)
“Time to kill.”
400 Days (2016)
Director: Matt Osterman
Cast: Brandon Routh, Dane Cook, Caity Lotz
Synopsis: Four astronauts undergoing a 400 day flight simulation begin to fear that something is awry in the outside world.
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Ambiguity is all the rage amongst filmmakers these days, but there can be few who take the concept as far as writer-director Matt Osterman does with his low budget independent flick, 400 Days.
The only thing the movie does adequately explain is why medical officer Emily (Caity Lotz) broke up with fellow astronaut Theo (Brandon Routh) just two weeks before they’re scheduled to embark together on a 400-day simulation of a voyage to Mars. The ship in which they’ll undertake this simulation is actually buried under the earth to ensure that Caity and Theo and two other astronauts will be completely isolated from the outside world for the entire duration of the exercise. The unhappy ex-lovers’ travel companions are Dvorak (Dane Cook), a bearish Alpha Male with whom Theo immediately strikes up an adversarial relationship, and Bug (Ben Feldman – Cloverfield – looking uncannily like a young Al Pacino), a sensitive family man who seems ill-equipped to handle a prolonged period of time cut off from the outside world.
A few weeks into the simulation, the four crew members are startled by an ominous rumbling from above, but decide that any external investigation would be a contravention of their mission instructions, which clearly state that under no circumstances are they to leave the ship. Anyway, things soon calm down and after this brief moment of excitement, life settles into a familiar but dull routine for more than a year. But, as the completion date draws tantalisingly near, strange things begin to happen. Dvorak suffers a Poltergeist moment in front of his mirror, and receives warnings from his computer monitor that the others hate him, while Bug turns the walls of his room into an intricate piece of maze-like artwork, work on which is only halted by a fleeting glimpse of the heels of his young son disappearing into a vent under his bunk. Oxygen levels grow dangerously low. Then, just days before they are due to be released, an emaciated man emerges from a ventilation shaft. Is he a part of the simulation, designed to test the crew under conditions of extreme stress, or is something altogether more sinister going on?
Who knows, is the answer to that one. Certainly, Osterman is staying tight-lipped, which only raises the suspicion that he had no real definitive version in mind when he wrote the script, which would explain why the final shot of 400 Days feels like such a cheat. The best ambiguous or open-ended movies succeed in stretching their audiences’ minds, and encouraging them to think far more deeply about what they’ve just seen than they otherwise would. The rest – and 400 Days resides firmly in this category – are usually incomplete, semi-coherent messes that test their confused audience’s patience to the limit. A good ambiguous movie will accommodate numerous theories, most of which are credible; a bad ambiguous movie will also accommodate numerous theories, all of which can be shot full of holes…
Oh yeah – she left him because she was told to, but it really isn’t important.
Or is it… ?
(Reviewed 15th August 2016)