400 Days centers on four astronauts sent on a simulated mission to a distant planet to test the psychological effects of deep space travel. Locked away for 400 days, the crew’s mental state begins to deteriorate when they lose all communication with the outside world.
Starring: Caity Lotz (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Brandon Routh (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow), Ben Feldman (Mad Men), Dane Cook (Detention), Tom, Cavanagh (The Flash), Grant Bowler (Defiance)
Directed and written by: Matt Osterman
Interview: Slice of SciFi talks with Matt Osterman
Ambiguity can be good. The ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The opening of The Matrix. Rick Deckard in Blade Runner. What makes ambiguity work in these cases is the solid tone of the story.
400 Days wants to play with ambiguity but only succeeds in wallowing in indecisiveness. Is it science fiction? Is it psychological thriller? Post-apocalyptic horror?
The plot follows four astronaut hopefuls locked into an underground spacecraft simulation for the titular 400 days to study the effects of long-term space travel. The astronauts include mission commander Theo (Brandon Routh), Emily (Caity Lotz), Bug (Ben Feldman), and Cole Dvorak (Dane Cook). Their boss, Walter, tells them that they have to complete the 400 days or their chances of making the actual space mission will evaporate. Theo catches Emily engaged in a surreptitious conversation with Walter just before the test begins; soon Emily, the mission’s doctor, injects the other crew members with what she claims to be immunization boosters, though she doesn’t receive any. Around the midpoint of the mission, a large bang rocks the simulator and the crew loses contact with the outside world. Bug soon begins to have visions of his (perhaps) dead son; Dvorak also sees fleeting images on his computer screen that stoke his paranoia towards Emily.
Theo eventually decides to exit the simulator, and he and Bug tunnel to the surface through an air vent. Here they find a blasted landscape, shrouded in darkness, covered in what turns out to be lunar soil. The would-be astronauts walk through the desolation to a small town named Tranquility, inhabited by mysterious people. Is it all a simulation? a hallucination? Has the world somehow been transformed?
400 Days never seems to decide what sort of film it wants to be. The claustrophobia of the simulator is well rendered, and the breakdown of relations amongst the crew feels real. But Emily’s mysterious behavior, coupled with Bug’s and Dvorak’s imaginings — and frequent shots of CCTV cameras tracking the characters — would suggest that the story is about how people unravel under unrelenting boredom.
But then there’s the mystery of the post-apocalyptic outside world. Bug analyses the soil and comments that it is not found on Earth. A denizen of Tranquility tells our characters that something impacted the moon, and the resulting dust and debris blanketed the earth in an impenetrable cloud; this denizen wonders if they are the last people alive on Earth.
Yet the behavior of the citizens of Tranquility comes straight out of zombie apocalypse stories. They are creepy and weird, and don’t act like people struggling beneath the pall of a demolished moon. In fact, it is strongly implied that they are engaged in cannibalism.
The finale of the film — after Emily and Theo kill townsfolk who have invaded the simulator — ends with the countdown clock hitting day 400; all the lights come on and a pre-recorded message congratulates them on successfully reaching the end of their mission.
I was engaged with the film throughout, but it felt maddening to watch. The clues didn’t indicate whether the action was real or all a simulation; it all seemed as though the goal was simply to confuse the viewer.
So, which is it?