The Horror Honeys: Sci-Friday ~ Choose Your Own Misadventure

Sci-Friday ~ Choose Your Own Misadventure

A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie

400 Days (2016)

One of the greatest things about science fiction is that its inherently contemplative subject matter – plumbing the vast recesses of unknown worlds and futures, meditating on life’s Big Questions – often incites lively debate amongst fans eager to extrapolate their own meaning from a story. In the world of sci-fi cinema, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Inception, there are seemingly endless ways that one’s interpretation of a deliberately open-ended work of art can differ from another. Writer/director Matt Osterman’s 400 Days is the latest sci-fi film that attempts to achieve just the right amount of ambiguity that allows the audience to make up their minds about what they’ve just experienced. More than anything else, however, 400 Days is bound to make you wonder whether or not Osterman himself had made up his own mind when he set out to make the film. 

400 Days opens with a montage about the American aspiration for space exploration; a long-held dream that leads us right into a present-day social experiment. Relegated to an underground bunker to simulate the physical and psychological challenges associated with long-term deep space travel, scientists Theo (Brandon Routh), Emily (Caity Lotz), Cole (Dane Cook) and Bug (Ben Feldman) settle in for more than a year of sleeping in close quarters and chowing down on rehydrated meals. The well-funded “Mission Control” has agency over the entire experiment, and throws a wrench into the proceedings beginning in minute one; the crew has barely suited up and completed the blastoff simulation before encountering a mechanical failure that will test their skills during a life-or-death crisis. It is immediately apparent that these are either the worst would-be cosmonauts of all time, or Mission Control is going to be messing with them on a regular basis.

You had ONE job, Dane Cook!  
As title cards begin to flash on screen to indicate the amount of time that has passed – 7 days, 60 days, and so on – the crew engages in various hobbies to pass the time, from origami to playing poker to perusing porno mags (that’s Dane Cook’s hobby, of course). We also learn a few more details about each character, such as Emily and Theo’s romantic past and Bug’s guilt over leaving his young son behind for the sake of the experiment. But the 400 days seem to be passing very quickly by the midway point in the film, and the characters begin to deal with more severe issues than ever before: physical altercations, Event Horizon-esque hallucinations, loss of power and oxygen, and creatures that break in from the outside. The crew finally decides to leave the bunker before the duration of the experiment has come to a close, and it is what they discover above the surface that threatens to turn 400 Days in to a different film entirely.

Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty.
From the second half of the film through its problematic closing sequence, 400 Days introduces so many possible explanations for what transpires that it’s hard to keep track of what is the most likely scenario. Is there an apocalyptic reality outside the bunker that they’ve been protected from for more than a year? Are they succumbing to hallucinations caused by cabin fever, oxygen deprivation, or a syringe-induced substance? Is the entire thing just a well-produced charade cooked up by Mission Control to test their mettle? Or is it a combination of some or all of the above? You can choose any path that you like, but there will always be glaring errors in logic for whatever direction you think the film is going in, and watching it a second time is unlikely to bring clarity to this jumbled mess of ideas. Throwing in the ordinarily whimsical and endearing Tom Cavanagh as an unintentionally hilarious villain further muddles the tone of a film that takes itself all too seriously for a feature starring (and produced by) professional obnoxious person Dane Cook.

Tom Cavanagh: adorable bad guy.
When utilized correctly, the right amount of ambiguity can open a cinematic world to untold possibilities that lie within the mind of the beholder. While 400 Days is decently photographed and boasts some actors that are known to hold their own (Caity Lotz also starred in one of my favorite sci-fi films from 2014), the utter lack of cohesion in the multitude of plot threads introduced is enough to unravel the film altogether. Purposeful ambiguity to promote discussion and personal interpretation is one thing, but throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks is quite another. Filmmakers: lead your audience down as many paths as you like, but never abandon them; we may not be so keen on taking a journey with you in the future.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Two measly days inside the space bunker out of five

400 Days is available via iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube VOD, Vudu, & Google Play

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