54 Days (2014) – By Levi Anderson

“A successful experiment in rugged filmmaking.”

At the beginning of this gritty Sci-Fi drama, diplomats are fleeing Beijing and Moscow as Washington is increasing sanctions against the East. Meanwhile, a posh party among social elites is getting underway on a downtown Sydney rooftop. Just as things seem to be getting off to a good start – boom! International war breaks out and everyone must flee for shelter against nuclear and chemical weapons!

The main characters, led by Nick (Michael Drysdale), find their way to an old bomb shelter and lock themselves inside, barely in time to protect from a chemical agent that has been dropped on major cities worldwide. Cutoff from the world, these 5 survivors must find a way to survive until the fallout has dissipated safely, though they don’t know when that will be. Lack of resources leads the survivors to succumb to their primal survival instincts, and things begin to turn deadly.

There were some plot points mercifully spelled out early on, such as being informed from the start that Michelle (Michela Carattini), while married to Anthony (John Michael Burdon), is having an affair with Nick. As Nick is attempting to whisk Michelle away to safety, Anthony is oblivious to the affair, but isn’t about to lose his wife in the madness, so he follows close behind. Nick, innately selfish, seems to like the idea of a post-apocalyptic 3-way, and invites Liz (Dianna La Grassa) to safety as well, who unfortunately is also being pursued by her close male friend with questionable intentions, Dirk (Gregory J Wilken). Dirk just so happens to squeeze into the shelter at the last minute, making the ratio 3 men to 2 women.

The resources in the shelter aren’t enough to sustain all 5 of them, and about 15 days in Nick suggests someone sacrifice themselves in order to save the full group. When Nick introduces the idea, it is really an aggressive play that I feel shows his true objective – to specifically get either Anthony or Dirk to kill themselves, in order that Nick and Michelle may be sure to survive. No one really cares about Liz at this point, not even Dirk now that his brain has cracked and he has begun a relationship with a cockroach. As far as Nick is concerned, if Liz volunteers to be the sacrifice, so be it, but he would likely prefer it be Anthony, if not both Anthony & Dirk. Things seldom go the way anyone wants them, however, and the characters still remaining 54 days in are left questioning if survival is even worth it anymore.

The style of this film is similar to what you’d expect of a George A. Romero remake – dark, moody, with a bit of noir. Production design and cinematography were top-notch. The filmmakers did a fantastic job of capturing the isolation and cramped quarters without crowding the actors in the location. Cameraman Nathaniel C.T. Jackson, along with production designer Skye McLennan and art director Elle de Gioia deserve recognition for doing exceptionally well to bring viewers into this claustrophobic and manic environment.

All the actors did a wonderful job, and it’s hard to identify a standout, but John Michael Burdon and Gregory J Wilken both nailed their characters. Wilken’s “Dirk” is the sole voice of optimism, possibly because he occasionally drifts away from reality and can let himself escape from the prison the others feel trapped in. Burdon’s “Anthony”, husband to “Michelle” seems a bit daft – you would think it would be hard not to see problems in your relationship when you are trapped 24/7 in a shelter with your wife and the man she’s having an affair with – but then again, sometimes we deny ourselves the truth when we know it’s painful. When Anthony does get a grasp on reality, I think he becomes the only character that does find a sense of redemption (though not by his own decision), while the others succumb to their demons (or in Dirks case, his fantasies).

While there were some questions left unanswered (How did Anthony remain so oblivious?), and a few curious decisions by the characters (… and Michelle actually trusts Nick?), “54 Days” is a top-notch debut film from writer/director/producer Tim R. Lea. This film succeeds as a daring experiment in rugged filmmaking, and should delight fans of sci-fi thrillers, as well as character driven dramas.

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In addition to the story, the production of this film should be an inspiration to indie filmmakers, as it is a great example of using today’s technology to make independent funding and self-distribution a reality. Other filmmakers would do well for themselves to take a closer look at the filmmakers’ “Background to the Production” and “EPK” on the official film website: http://www.54daysthemovie.com