The Movie Waffler First Look Review - <i>54 Days</i> | The Movie Waffler

First Look Review - 54 Days

Following a nuclear strike, tensions rise between five survivors in a bunker.

Directed by: Tim R Lea

Starring: Michela Carratini, Gregory J Wilken, John Michael Burdon, Dianna LaGrassa

Hell is other people, the old aphorism goes. Other people; everywhere with their foibles, with their clashing personalities, their generally being a nuisance. They’re bad enough when they play with their phones in the cinema, when they stand in the aisles in the supermarket, when they try to tell you their problems. If you’re lucky, you can smile and nod such encounters out, eventually walking away to carry on with your one and only life. But what if you were trapped with other people? Stuck in a dingy underground bunker with four of them, following the events of a nuclear strike, the fallout of which meant that you couldn’t leave, and instead had to suffer the simmering tensions and aggravations caused by diminishing food, water and, eventually, air?
Such are the conditions that the characters of 54 Days, an Australian kick-started independent, find themselves in. The theme is established early in the film, when around 20 revellers gather for an early evening party on a Sydney rooftop and their objectionable idiosyncrasies are made manifest. We see people making awkward small talk, being fussy over their drinks, and a couple of leches smacking a girl on the bottom as she passes. Of course, when the bomb drops and a quintet rushes to a conveniently placed fall-out shelter beneath the high rise, such incongruities are amplified; the screw tightening when reserves deplete and tempers fray, leading to bitter betrayals and desperate power struggles within the group.
54 Days is reminiscent of the American post-apocalyptic horror The Divide, and perhaps, due to both films’ highly specific premise, could be seen as derivative of that earlier movie. I’d argue that there is enough room for more than one pressure cooker drama set in a fall out bunker, though; after all, without wishing to sound grim, judging by recent global events, it’s probable that these dingy survival situations are where we’ll all soon end up, anyway. And if we do, it’s likely that our behaviour will be as captured by 54 Days; one of the film’s dark charms is how it builds a realistic sense of desperate futility, using all too credible human touches. 54 Days is a film where the discovery of a record after three weeks of no music leads to characters’ utter joy, where heart-breaking boredom gives way to adopting a cockroach as a pet and even giving it a name (‘Roachie’). These subtle, sad moments set 54 Days apart from the utter nihilism of the likes of The Divide, and make for a more textured experience.
Pacing wise, however, there is a slackening of tension midway through the film. While it’s possible that the hollowness of certain scenes is an artistic choice, designed to convey the ennui of being stuck in a bunker for 30 odd days, what feels more likely is that these slow moments are padding, typical of an indie aiming for feature length. However, the film is never far from compelling; with little twists and fetid secrets fermenting in the stale air of the shelter; as you begin to think 54 Days is running out of oxygen, there turns out to be something extra lurking in the shadows.
Writer/Director Tim Lea’s prior work includes working in theatre, making 10-minute plays. This work in the previous medium is evident in the well-crafted dialogue, superb direction/ acting and expressive use of space in 54 Days, and is built upon with slick, impressive visuals, such as the shakey-cam panic of the initial explosion, and more sedate moments, like a cockroach feeling its way across a shower curtain in the squalid gloom. Anyone who funded 54 Days will be pleased at the fruits of their investment, and proud of their trust in Lea. You’ll be relieved when it’s over, and the dense claustrophobia 54 Days expertly invokes is dissipated, but while you’re deep within its grim murk, 54 Days is a tight and suspenseful addition to the post-apocalyptic genre.

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Benjamin Poole