When a movie bills itself as part crime-thriller, part meditation on suicide, you know you’re in for an interesting experience. The question is whether it will be “interesting” in the sense of something that sends you down a four-hour internet rabbit hole, or “interesting” in the way you might use the word when you can’t think of anything positive to say about your friend’s screenplay but don’t want to be rude. 100 Days to Live, the award-winning film from Writer/Director Ravin Gandhi, would definitely like to be thought of as the former, but definitely has more in common with the latter. As a crime-thriller, it’s a ploddingly predictable exercise in genre conventions. As a treatise on suicide, it’s a superficial exploitation of a serious mental condition that offers nothing informative to people unfamiliar with the condition or anything recognizable to those who actually suffer from it.
Rebecca Church (Heidi Johanningmeir) is a young woman running a suicide support group in Chicago. While her professional life is consumed by other people’s demons, her personal life is going through a period of seemingly blissful perfection. After just a couple months of dating, her boyfriend Gabriel Weeks (Colin Egglesfield) proposes to her, and the couple set about planning their lives together, including such heady life questions as cats versus dogs. However, their engagement is cut decidedly short when Gabriel is kidnapped the very next day by a serial killer who has been terrorizing the area. At first, very little is known about the killer outside the calling cards he leaves when abducting his victims, a scrapbook featuring candid snaps from 100 days of stalking people with a history of suicide attempts, complete with titles like “Gabriel Was Saved,” which result in him being dubbed The Savior.
Once the police bring Rebecca in for questioning, the film dives head-first into the world of derivative genre exercise. Through the cunning use of long-winded exposition, massive leaps in logic, and unnecessary breaches of official protocol, our unlikely heroine quickly identifies The Savior as Victor Quinn (Gideon Emery), a former co-worker from a suicide prevention hotline. A well-intentioned man, Victor has a history of becoming obsessed with his callers and being driven to fits of rage by his failures, tattooing the names of the people he lost all over his body. Rebecca is quite surprised to see her old colleague involved in the crime, given that the last time she saw him, he shot himself in the head and ended up in a coma that the doctors diagnosed as terminal. But after spending a hundred days in said coma, he suddenly wakes back up, has a revelation about the nature of suicide, and sets about his grisly task. Fortunately for Rebecca, he broke the cardinal rule of serial killing and never bothered to change his cell number, so she has no trouble tracking him down and confirming all the relevant details. It’s all a little too familiar, a little too easy, and much too predictable. Obvious clues about eventual M. Night Shyamalan plot twists are dropped via familiar devices like interrupted “work calls,” and while the actual pivots aren’t quite exactly what you’re expecting, they’re close enough to drain the excitement out of the surprises.
Beyond all the murders, the real crime of the film is its treatment of the subject of suicide, which is never so much explored as exploited. To be sure, the topic permeates the film and defines virtually every character in it. In addition to Victor’s fixation and presumed death, Rebecca and Gabriel have both grappled with suicide. Rebecca even found the body when her mother committed suicide years before. Though the topic is frequently discussed, and the word appears in almost every other line of dialogue, the topic is treated with only the most superficial lip-service. We don’t see what it’s like to live with depression, or discuss the causes of chronic suicidal tendencies beyond the idea that bad things happen and that makes people sad. Even when Victor’s motive is eventually revealed, it is supposedly motivated by a deep understanding of the suicidal mind, but really plays as an oversimplified pontification by an overconfident and underexperienced observer. Though suicide is the backbone of the narrative, it never amounts to much more than Ross’s job as a paleontologist in Friends: it provides the illusion of depth without the burden of actually having to create any while setting up a slew of dinosaur pajama jokes.
Verdict: 2 out of 5 Stars
100 Days to Live has an interesting premise and a few good moments of genuine suspense, but rarely offers anything that comes close to living up to its potential. The acting ranges from the middling to the middle-school play, the rare moments of action aren’t choreographed well enough to be convincing, and the dialogue is far too expository to ever feel natural. Those looking for a suspenseful crime drama, an insightful psychological drama, or a good use of an iTunes gift card will all be disappointed.