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[Movie] 400 Days

400 Days is the first theatrical release film from a company (SyFy) that’s been cranking mediocre to howlingly (we hope intentionally) funny terribad movies out onto its cable station for years. Getting in to movie theaters is a big deal, a major investment, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee a movie’s actually good, right? Let me tell you, I’d rather watch a SyFy offering any day than Transformers 4. But is this Syfy going legit, so to speak?

Imagine the wiggly hand gesture here. Yes and no. I’ll be the first to admit I’m a tough sell when we’re talking relatively small/low budget independent scifi, because we’ve seen some amazing shit in the genre recently, mostly dominated by the UK. So I’m probably a harsher judge than I could be. On the other hand, I really, really want SyFy to succeed, because I want to see more small, weird, good genre films. And SyFy’s generally got the weird part down at least. I went in to 400 Days wanting very much to like it and wanting it to succeed.

Spoiler: I was disappointed.

The movie’s got a pretty straightforward plot: A sleazy corporate dude in a suit, representing a private company that’s breaking in to space exploration, puts four astronauts in an underground bunker for a 400 day experiment to simulate a long term space voyage and ascertain the psychological effects. The simulation astronauts are named Bug (Ben Feldman), Neil (Brandon Routh), Dudebro (Dane Cook), and Emily (Caity Lotz).

(Okay, actually, according to IMDB they’re Bug, Theo, Dvorak, and Emily, but I swear to god for the first half of the film everyone sounded like they were saying Neil instead of Theo.)

Not long into the experiment, the crew loses contact with their corporate, simulated ground control. They assume it’s part of the simulation and keep going, at which point things get increasingly weird in a way that indicates the film really wants to be a psychological thriller.

The sets (and filming style) all have that faintly unreal, cardboard-y look to them that seems endemic of SyFy movies, but in this case it actually works for the film, since the crew isn’t actually in a space ship–just an underground bunker that’s been tarted up to look like one. We’re always supposed to be in doubt about what is actually real, so everything looking a bit fake does lend itself well to that. Nothing too remarkable in the filming style, standard teal and orange color grading. Sound was… all right, though I had a hard time understanding the actors now and then, which is why I was convinced for about half an hour that Theo was actually named Neil. I thought the actors turned in decent performances, though Tom Cavanagh (playing Zell, creepy survivor guy and possible cannibal) was over the top in a way that really clashed with the rest of the film leading up to him. I also had a hell of a time telling Brandon Routh (Theo) and Ben Feldman (Bug) apart.

What let 400 Days down wasn’t the acting or the direction or even the fact that Evil Co apparently buys their space ship trash cans at Target, but the script. The characters (except for Bug) were cyphers with no past and no real internal emotional life to feed what they were doing or make their decisions sensical. This could have been forgiven in scifi/horror fare where you just sit back and watch the blood spray and CGI aliens gorge themselves on livers or pituitary glands or what have you, but not when we’re supposed to actually care about the struggle of these supposed “ordinary” characters against the unseen forces that seem to manipulate them. Worse, what starts as a decently solid plot unravels completely by the end. I’d recommend not bothering with this one until you can just watch it on the Syfy channel.

Spoilers as I get a bit more detailed into the plot.

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Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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