Described as “50 Shades but worse” by my younger sister, I had a suspicion as to what I was in for before pressing play on 365 Days, the number one film on Netflix right now. Based on the Polish novel 365 Dni, author Blanka Lipińska is palpably a fan of the Twilight-based works of E.L James. This film feels like another splashless drop in the pool of films about problematic men who enjoy dominating attractive women, and it’s undoubtedly the copious fornication that pushed the adaptation into the streaming service’s top spot.
Spoiler alert: this review reveals plot points that may ruin the storyline if you haven’t already seen 365 Days. If you have, it’s likely ruined itself already.
Director Barbara Bialowas introduces us to the attractive, sexually frustrated protagonists; Massimo (Michele Marrone), a gangster CEO who oozes financial flex as he forcefully seduces an air hostess, and Laura (Anna Maria Sieklucka), a tenacious sales director whose boyfriend Martin leaves her satisfaction to a vibrating wand. There’s no need for Avril Lavigne to make it any more obvious as to how this story is going to pan out.
The film follows toe-for-toe in the footsteps of Twilight and its adult equivalent 50 Shades of Grey, but 365 Days ramps up the sex in exchange for plot, leaving the bare bones without much flesh other than Marrone’s buttocks, which get ample screentime. There are teasers suggesting we may be thrown other titbits of story to pad out the softcore porn, like the man Massimo murders for dabbling in child trafficking, and the mystery of how he found Laura, or what she was even doing on the beach in the first place. And let’s not forget that our male protagonist also boasts a 10ft portrait of his wannabe lover that he’s had at home “for years”, which opens a whole barrel of questions about his obsession and general mental state.
But up-close these potentially juicy fruits are made of wax, as the story arc trails desperately after the Edward Cullen and Christian Grey format: mysterious and sexy, then all guns blazing sexy, followed by a premature engagement, and finally shock as oodles of unprotected sex inevitably results in pregnancy. 365 Days even delivers on the danger-becomes-saviour trope as Massimo rushes in to kill a nightclub predator, although the overarching kidnapping concept brought a sprinkling of Stockholm syndrome that was absent in both Twilight and 50 Shades.
In a world where porn is the norm it’s hard for sex to shock, but Bialowas manages it with the oddity of some of the more explicit scenes. The aerial view of Laura and Massimo going full pelt on the bow of his yacht is bizarre, and must only have been thrown in to diversify the clichés of clasped hands against bed sheets and sex-on-sink shots. Odd as it is, it is preferable to the four, yes four, shopping slash make-over slash man-looking-disinterested-at-clothes scenes. From the flamboyantly dressed male assistants to the drunken besties singalong, these scenes kick any vision of 365 Days as a saucy gangster thriller right back into the sexed-up and slightly trashy chick flick box where it belongs.
The soundtrack does a lot of the legwork in this film – if the components of 365 Days were a relay team, the script is the lethargic kid who’s been forced to run despite his forged sick note. The flicker in Sieklucka’s eyes suggests that Massimo’s hat trick of “Are you lost baby girl?” utterances are supposed to be sultry, but… they just aren’t. And then enter the shower scene: if anybody ever got laid with the line: “Why are you looking at it? Do you want to touch it?”, then they shouldn’t have. The questions are framed with such a high-pitched boyish curiosity that this thuggish but suave Mafia boss is suddenly reduced to a weird eight-year old who would bring his pet slugs in for show and tell. Luckily a bassy backing track kicks in and reminds us that Massimo and Laura are naked and there’s sexual tension, and Marrone’s own crooning on the soundtrack puts the mood back in place.
There was some relief in Laura’s presumed death at the end of the film. The less-than-subtle disclaimers about her “weak heart” had me convinced that we’d lose her to cardiovascular issues, but instead she drives into a tunnel and just never comes out. It’s as though producers realised they’d reached the 1 hour 30 mark and needed a quick way to wrap things up. The brief scene with Anna, the Mrs Robinson-esque ex, looms as a likely lethal end for Laura, and so we’re left assuming that she’s responsible for throwing a red-eyed Massimo onto his knees when he learns about the incident.
There are welcome deviations from its predecessors that give 365 Days a bit of bite; Laura has a refreshing amount of oomph compared to Meyer’s Bella or James’ Anastasia, which actually makes her collapse into submission a lot more tragic. The film also leaves ends untied, which may be the joy – or horror – of condensing so much content into the last half hour of the film. Thrusted into a plot that feels so familiar, the tangy gangster undertones and Laura’s punchy finesse are refreshing breakaways from what we might expect. But is 365 Days a sexier but lacking reworking of movies we’ve already seen and slagged off? Definitely.