I'm a huge fan of the science fiction and horror genres. I especially like when the two are able to seamlessly blend with each other (such as with films like Alien and Event Horizon). I'm also a huge fan of Brandon Routh and have been ever since Superman Returns and on up through his current gig as Ray Palmer (a.k.a. the ATOM) on The CW's Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow. Hell, I'm even the guy that liked Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (yeah... I'm that guy!).
I had seen the trailer for 400 Days somewhere a while back and was already anxiously waiting for it to come out. It looked like quite the thought provoking and intense thriller.
400 Days is a movie from SyFy Films (yes... as in SyFy Channel) and is written and directed by relative newcomer Matt Osterman. It stars the aforementioned Brandon Routh as Theo, the captain of a small astronaut team who is placed underground in a simulator program to test how they would handle isolation and emergency situations on a planned mission to deep space. Things start normally enough as the team adapts to their new surroundings but when strange events begin occurring tensions get high. Paranoia and hallucinations start to set in as the situation seems to get more grim. However, when a mysterious intruder shows up, the team is forced to leave their isolation and find that the environment outside has had a devastating change. But is it all a part of the simulation?
The movie also stars Dane Cook (whom you might recall from that stand up comedy career you haven't heard much from recently) as engineer Dvorak, Caity Lotz (also of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow) as crew doctor Emily, and Ben Feldman (that guy who took a machete to the face in the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th) as Bug... a botanist? I'm not really sure... he's experimenting with plants or something. Anchoring the back half of the movie, in probably the finest performance of the lot, is Tom Cavanagh (representing yet another member of Team DCTVU, currently starring on The Flash as Harrison Wells) as the mysterious, demented, yet oddly polite diner owner named Zell.
Matt Osterman's premise for 400 Days is really a solid one. What starts off as a pretty routine mission simulation becomes a surreal, mind-bending experience as the team starts to realize that things may have gone horribly wrong above while they were securely isolated underground. It has all the makings of an ambiguous brain twister but doesn't quite hit the mark.
Most films that successfully capture the "what really happened?" idea and keep you thinking well past the end of the movie (i.e.: Blade Runner, Inception, Total Recall), give you all of the necessary information up front and build a compelling drama around it. 400 Days mashes together 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Hill but simply leaves you with a series of unanswered questions as opposed to an ambiguous scenario that is left to your own interpretation.
To its credit, the second half of the movie, when the crew suddenly finds themselves in a harsh and seemingly post-apocalyptic new world, is fairly well executed. Brandon Routh and Tom Cavanagh really deliver on the tension. The problem, more than anything else, is pacing. As you watch the film you can't help but get the feeling that the whole things was rushed in editing to accommodate a two-hour block of time with commercials on SyFy Channel. There isn't enough time to really get to know any of the characters and as a result you don't care for any of them or what they are going through. The character with the most depth is Routh's Captain Theo and that's only because it was established early on that he just had his heart broken and may or may not be fit to lead.
Also, it's to be expected that a movie called 400 Days is going to have significant time jumps. However, there is never enough time devoted to a particular period they are in. It's difficult to relate to what they are going through because you haphazardly jump from one intense situation to the next.
When the paranoia and hallucinations really start to get interesting they are often dead ended by a shift in time or by simply refusing to finish a scene. The effect is that the audience is left with the same surrealistic confusion that the characters are experiencing, but a little more care and depth could have really driven that concept home.
400 Days is part of a new attempt to bring the sci-fi back to SyFy. Along with premiering the new show The Expanse, SyFy wants to remind audiences of their ability to produce work beyond the shlock-fest of generic monster movies, like Sharknado, that they have become most associated with. All in all, it's not a bad film. The premise is strong, the performances are good enough and [director] Matt Osterman shows that he has some talent and should be paid attention to over the course of his blooming career. However, it has obvious editing and storytelling flaws that could, perhaps, have been tackled better by more seasoned filmmakers.
400 Days hits theaters (limited release) and On Demand January 12, 2016. If you're a fan of science fiction and/or an appreciator of independent filmmaking, check it out; or perhaps if you're just a huge fan of the DC TV Universe and want to see those actors branch out of their comfort zone a little bit.
In the meantime, check out the trailer below.