The intense solitude of space, along with its propensity towards life-threatening disaster, has made it a natural breeding ground for psychological drama. From Andrei Tarkovsky’s inwardly emotional Solaris, to Duncan Jones’ solipsistic Moon – by way of Paul W. S. Anderson’s daft but disturbing Event Horizon – there’s the sense that, in the world of cinema, the surest way to lose one’s mind is to spend an extended period of time inside a fluorescent capsule, miles away from a place called home.
400 Days is the latest example of this trend, a derivative but sporadically effective slice of low-budget science fiction-cum-survival horror. It follows Theo Cooper (former Superman, Brandon Routh) an astronaut who has agreed to take part in a 400-day-long simulation in an underground bunker, fashioned to look like a spaceship, to study the long-term effects of space travel. Along for the ride are Bug (Ben Feldman), a wired botanist; Cole (Dane Cook), an aggressive alpha-male; and Emily (Caity Lotz), a doctor and Theo’s recent ex-girlfriend.
The first half of the film follows the psychological contours of the seclusion, with strange events – communication failures, hallucinations, the appearance of unexpected life – challenging the astronauts’ perceptions of reality and forcing them into believable confrontations with one another. Come the second half, it’s clear that writer and director Matt Osterman’s primary influence is The Twilight Zone, as he spins a post-apocalyptic mystery that falls into familiar storytelling beats.
While there are obvious flaws with the premise – namely that we’re not given much reason to care about the central characters beyond a few perfunctory flashbacks – there’s a palpable sense of dread that permeates throughout much of the film, even if it does resort to jump scares one too many times. The mystery is compelling enough to carry the narrative through its more outlandish segments, and actor Tom Cavanagh delivers a charismatic performance as an outside threat. This is why it’s so disappointing to report that the ending is almost bad enough to devalue all that came before it. The problem is that Osterman mistakes an infuriating lack of conclusion for a haunting sense of ambiguity and makes 400 Days a film worth watching so long as you focus purely on the journey – not the destination.
400 Days is released in selected cinemas on 19th August 2016.
Watch the trailer for 400 Days here: