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54 Days, an independent Australian film from Tim R. Lea is a truly gripping bit of work that goes to show just how great cinema is that comes from Oz. It has to be pointed out that of the best horror and science fiction films out of the last 20 years, quite an impressive number have come from “the land down under,” and this award winning festival favorite joins a lot of popular movies that have either become cult favorites or great additions to a film genre.
It is the latter category that 54 Days falls into. At first glance the film, written, directed and produced by Lea, is about survival and interaction between a small group of Australian businessmen, and their wives/girlfriends, who share a lot more than a few of them realize. This apocalyptic, with a hearty touch of the post apocalyptic, takes the story of worldwide devastation and focuses on a small group of colleagues, friends and lovers who barely make it to shelter before a biological and nuclear attack affects their area of the city. Later on, it is learned that the city is not alone and it appears the entire world has been taken over this way.
Once in the too small shelter, it is pointed out in the film that this older fallout facility was built for two adults and two children, the group learn that in order to survive to the last day possible, which is 54 days, someone is going to have to die. It is this premise that changes everything. The occupants of the small and limited place of safety go from feeling relief to a variety of emotions as the shelter becomes uncomfortably close, awkward and finally impossible. The story feels like an allusion to the five stages of dying and it is brilliantly done. This independent Australian film is gripping from start to finish and it truly impresses the viewer.
The start of 54 Days shows a rooftop get together in an Australian city, the party is interrupted by news of a Chinese attack. After the information is received via text, the celebrants look off in the distance and see burning building tops and as they discuss what this means, a nuclear blast is spotted off in the distance. As the bright flash engulfs this small crowd instant panic sets in and certain party members head for the staircase and safety.
Nick, played by Sidney actor Michael Drysdale (in his first feature length film) grabs his lover Michelle, played by Michela Carattini (It’s a Dole Life, Street Scene) who is married to John Michael Burdon’s (Red Sky at Night, Unbroken) character Anthony. Michelle grabs her best friend Elizabeth, played by Dianna La Grassa (in her first feature film) who grabs Dirk, played by Gregory J. Wilken. As these intertwined individuals head down the stairs, Anthony follows and the group end up at the bottom of the building outside the entrance to a nuclear shelter. Nick, who has somehow gotten behind shows up to let everyone in.
Once inside, Nick locks out three men who followed them down and the trio die just outside the door. The film follows the rise and fall of each changing group dynamic and how every individual deals with the fact of their own rapidly encroaching mortality. There is one other character in the shelter with the group of five, a roach. This little survivor plays the roles of pet, confidant, and foreteller of the occupants fate.
Lea uses a minimal amount of music in his film’s score and it goes a long way toward building the tension and adds to the “fly on the wall” feeling of the production. Kudos are in order for cinematographer Nathaniel C.T. Jackson who honed his skill on short films which stood him in good stead for his first full length production. The makeup for the film is spot on, each character looking dirtier and more bedraggled as the days go by. Dead and peeling skin along with the problems associated with not being able to wash are readily apparent and adds to the realism.
All the actors knock it out of the park in terms of selling their characters. Carattini is completely believable as the cheating wife who has grown to hate her husband. For the majority of the cast, this was their first full length film and one would never know from their performances. Actress Dianna La Grassa plays her role with multiple levels and never once falters as the woman who changes so drastically toward the end of the film. Burden is perfect as the successful businessman who does not realise, or presumably care, how much he grates on those closest to him.
The Australian Independent film 54 Days is a truly gripping tale of tense human emotion and reaction in the face of slow impending death. The film is available to stream on its website, which is listed below. The film’s producers are in negotiations to bring the feature to Amazon, iTunes and other film sites. Take time to watch this post apocalyptic film and prepare to become immersed in the characters days on film as they struggle to survive.
By Michael Smith
54 Days Online Screener