The 24th Day

Screen Media Fims,

Tony Piccirillo
Based on his play

James Marsden,
Scott Speedman
Sof’a Vergara,
Barry Papick,
Scott Roman,
Thea Chaloner

Rated R, 92 minutes

Tie Me Up Tie Me Down
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, February 2010

The 24th Day (2004) is a film about responsibility, revenge and redemption. Things get ugly when two men, who tricked five years earlier, hook up again. Director Tony Piccirillo's adaptation of his 1996 play is part cautionary tale and part thriller.

Tom (Scott Speedman) is a straight man who has discovered that he is HIV positive. He had sex with a man once and assumes that he could only have contracted the virus when they shared a drunken one night stand. Tom haunts the gay bars, looking for him. One night, Tom sees him. Dan (James Marsden) is a party boy; cute, funny, personable and horny. He doesn't remember Tom and he is about to go home with the wrong guy.

Back at Tom's place, things soon begin to get a little tense. Our boys, at first, seem like pals. Tom asks if they can just talk for awhile and, before long, his questions begin to get hostile. Tom asks Dan how many men he has had sex with and the low number that he answers with is obviously a lie. Dan recognizes a knickknack and says, "I've been here before." Then he feigns embarrassment when he realizes that the two of them have not only met before, but they've also tricked. Tom gets angry now and asks Dan if he always practices safe sex. Things come to a head and Dan tries to leave, only to find the door locked. Tom slams Dan's head against the wall, handcuffs him and ties him to a chair.

Tom tells Dan that, 24 days ago, he tested positive and that he is the only one who could possibly have infected him. Tom doesn't believe Dan when he says that he used a condom that night five years ago. Dan was so drunk that he doesn't remember Tom; how could he possibly remember if he wore a condom? Tom takes a vial of Dan's blood. He will bring the blood to a friend at a clinic so that it can tested for AIDS. If the test comes back positive, Tom tells his bound and gagged captive, he will kill him.
The 24th Day is a nifty and suspenseful game of cat and mouse. It is mostly a two hander and the two leads are up to the challenge. The bulk of the film is set in the apartment to preserve the intimacy of its stage production. Before anyone calls that a negative, or the film "stagy," Piccirillo was savvy enough to utilize a few cinematic tricks when he transferred his play to celluloid. Jump cuts are employed during selected moments of dialogue. Overexposed, silent flashbacks help flesh out Tom's backstory. The camera does leave the apartment from time to time, and the film opens in a bar. The claustrophobic photography inside the apartment is reminiscent of Polanski. Dan's two escape attempts provide more than enough sufficient "action."
The central conflict might stretch believability for some but there is no way to predict human nature. Anger can turn even a milquetoast into a monster and Tom has cause to be angry. We will learn that Tom was married and that his wife was ill. Upon learning that her condition arose from AIDS complications, she crashed her car and was killed. Suicide is implied. When Tom then had himself tested, and the results came back positive, he was convinced that his wife caught it from him. But nothing is black and white. Dan is quick to point out that she was the one who was sick and that she could have given it to him.
Tom is unmoved and tells Dan that he has to be held accountable. "We fooled around five years ago," Dan shouts, "What do I have to be accountable for?" Dan insists that he is always safe, but he has already been caught lying. Much of their dialogue revolves around what constitutes the truth. Dan's lies aren't necessarily malicious but they are falsehoods nonetheless. Because he lies so easily, it is easy to disbelieve him when he insists that he has been tested for AIDS. "Everyone has their own truth," Tom insists. "But the only truth that matters is the true truth. Not what you say, or what I say, but what really is."
The grimmer aspects to their situation aren't forgotten. For example, Dan soils himself while Tom soundly sleeps a few feet away. "Do you think my bodily functions just stop?" Dan asks as the two bicker like a married couple. Dan attempts to exploit this bathroom episode and tries to escape, nearly strangling his captor with a TV cord before being overpowered again as he tries to break out of the apartment. The tension between them is often broken up with humor. "Are you still mad at me?" Dan asks, the next day. "I'm a hostage! You're supposed to expect this kind of behavior from us." When Tom doesn't respond, Dan continues, "I could have left you for dead but I didn't. You should be thanking me."
There is no clear villain and it's difficult to side with one man over the other. Which one of them has been more victimized? Over the course of the film, their characters are gradually revealed. Dan is a likable guy; he has probably relied on his charm in the past to get himself out of trouble and he is now facing the biggest challenge of his life. Tom is not a bad person but he is upset and angry, and has been pushed over the edge. Tom has no business taking Dan hostage but eventually you understand why is doing it. That doesn't excuse his behavior but, if he is right about Dan, then Dan should be held accountable, in some way at least, for his lapse in judgment. There really are no black or white hats in this story.

I can find no fault with the film's two stars and both get to show off their acting chops. They say that the eyes are everything in an acting performance and just look how Marsden's eyes express fear in all the scenes in which his mouth is duct taped shut. According to an online press release, the movie was shot in sequence and that can be a boon when building the intensity of a performance. (There are also no lapses in the continuity of Marsden's increasing beard stubble.) Don't look for a huge Agatha Christie twist at the end but its conclusion nevertheless surprised me and did not disappoint.

The AIDS/revenge scenario probably would have been more of a shocking horror story in the 1980s or the early 1990s, but it still works today. In closing, here is a bit of trivia for anyone who is interested: ER's Noah Wylie played Dan in the original stage production.


James Marsden also appears in: