SUB-GENRES: Mystery / Thriller
DIRECTED BY: Matt Osterman
WRITTEN BY: Matt Osterman
PEW PEW: When the suspense picks up, it’s riveting and action is not really necessary.
CAT FOOD: The film focuses on the psychological effects of deep space isolation. The inter crew dynamic is intense, with each member reeling from some sort of internal struggle.
As Stephen King pointed out before he totally screwed us over at the end of his magnum opus The Dark Tower, it’s about the journey, not the destination. In true Stephen King style, he used a sexual metaphor to sell his point, but can we not agree that finishing that kind of *ahem* “journey” well is also a fantastic reward too? This is the dilemma I’m faced with after having seen Matt Osterman’s incredible new film 400 Days.
The film begins sometime in the not terribly distant future. As the United States space program anticipates a manned mission to Mars’ orbit, a grueling training program is devised that puts the four would-be astronauts in a simulated spacecraft buried beneath a remote field (on Earth) for four hundred days. They are promised that curve balls will be thrown at them and that they will need to perform in the simulated spacecraft tasks that they would normally have to perform in a real one.
The film is far from just a boring Big Brother scenario, however. 400 Days primes us with inter crew conflicts early on, but once the weird stuff begins it’s a brilliant and utterly fascinating exercise in mystery and gripping suspense. Stuff seriously starts to happen that has the crew questioning whether or not this is really a simulation.
For starters, the cast is brilliant. Each character has a different internal struggle and their respective actors expertly grasp these struggles and face the task of bringing them to shocking life exceptionally. Brandon Routh is the captain, who struggles with depression after the woman he wanted to marry breaks up with him just before the mission started. Caity Lotz seems to be on a mission of her own, struggling with her own conscience in the process. Ben Feldman is a happy-go-lucky father who misses his young son. Dane Cook is initially funny, but unveils a troubled interior forged from years at boarding school isolated from uncaring parents.
Once the biggest of the film’s puzzling and utterly fascinating bombshells is dropped, the film turns into a gut-wrenching and desperate search for answers as the crew faces an even more powerful isolation than they first thought. The whole movie plays out like one of the best damn Twilight Zone episodes ever, keeping you intrigued and guessing the entire time… waiting for that twist…
The film’s score, composed by Sean McMahon, is also a thing of brilliance, and I must champion the film’s sleek visual presentation. Bonus points awarded for one fantastic 2001: A Space Odyssey reference!
Because the viewing experience is best if one is left completely in the dark about what is actually going on, I’ll not say a whole lot more. You can expect a gripping plot with loads of character dynamic and to be kept on the edge of your seat wondering just what is going on and how the whole damn thing is going to end.
Please note, however, that this film held a five star rating up to the very end, when I was presented with an ending I can only describe as, erm, controversial. Is it a unique way to end a story like this? Absolutely. Does it work with the overall theme presented throughout the film itself? One hundred per cent. Is it a satisfying ending? Ultimately, I will warn you that many of you will be cheesed by the film’s conclusion. It’s brilliant in its own way, and I’m cool with it (the film is definitely worth the watch regardless), but it does detract from the enjoyability of the film to some extent.
It’s insanely clever and it really screws with your head, but the ending could put most people off. For this, I have to remove a star from the rating. Going back to the opening statement, 400 Days’ “journey” is quite exciting and insanely pleasurable for those of us with a sci-fi fetish, but the film’s ending presents an unsatisfying “finish” that will probably leave you feeling more than a little, erm, blue…