14 Days, Directed by Joseph Villapaz
Over a period of 14 days, one bench in New York’s Central Park gets a lot of strange visitors. A couple of secret agents address longstanding romantic tensions and a widow converses with her husband who died long ago. A lesbian couple discuss their future, siblings honour the memory of their parents, a robber examines his loot — and various extraterrestrial beings evaluate the future of the planet.
The secret agents meet at locations throughout the city, from the waterfront of the Hudson to the well-trafficked bench in Central Park. They talk about ‘strange occurrences’ going on in the city that are under investigation by other teams in their agency. One of them wants to transfer to one of these teams to learn more. His partner is incredulous though: ‘I thought we were partners’, she says. Their relationship goes beyond official cordiality. They hint at a deeper relationship that extends into the past, whose reflections in the present create tension in their work. She talks about a trip to Italy, an expected proposal on the Spanish Steps, and disappointment about a relationship that could have been — and perhaps could still be.
The secret agents share coffee breaks together, talking about ‘strange occurrences’, their feelings, and cats — but their beepers interrupt their conversations, calling them to various locations in the city. (We never actually see what it is that they’re up to.) Sitting on the park bench, interrupted by the beeping of her device, one partner reads the place they’re being called to: ‘Twenty-third Street. Ten minutes’.
‘We got it. We always do’, her partner says.
The secret agents and their developing relationship will come up again and again, but other characters in this drama show up only briefly, never to be seen again. There’s the widow who is somehow able to have a conversation with her dead husband on the same park bench where the two secret agents shared their coffee break. At first it appears to be a normal conversation between people close to one another, but when the woman begins to express her regrets, it’s clear that there is something more mysterious about her conversation. Her husband consoles her: ‘You don’t have to keep coming back to this place’.
She finishes his sentence: ‘– where we first met’.
Another couple meets at the same place for lunch, sharing jokes and discussing more serious topics. It turns out that they’re married (and still alive) and thinking about having a baby. Later, a robber ends up on the same park bench to examine a stolen purse. The secret agents are chasing him down. But instead of taking the contents of the purse, he leaves everything on the park bench after a touching message left on a phone in the purse makes him rethink his decision to steal. When the robber has gone, three siblings meet at the same bench, just as they do every year to remember their dead parents at the spot where they first met. (Sound familiar?)
The most interesting characters in the film are the extraterrestrial ones. (They look human, but that’s merely to blend with the native population.) In Central Park, they make extraordinary claims about the planet and humans, perceiving our flaws and pointing them out from an intergalactic perspective. Some don’t understand human sarcasm because they haven’t been on the planet long enough, but others have strong opinions on human nature: ‘The people of this world are too primitive, too concerned with acquiring trivial material needs instead of doing what they can to ensure the survival of their planet.’ What have they learned from visiting Earth?
That the highest life form indigenous to this planet commits atrocities against its own people, performs nuclear experiments on their own planet… They are too concerned with their own plans and they can’t see how desperate the situation is. They can’t see the grander scale.
Alien observations challenge viewers to question their behaviours. The extraterrestrials do not cross paths with humans in this film, but they do traverse the same space in Central Park. The aliens’ observations add some coherence to the film’s collection of stories which are otherwise mostly unconnected. The alien perspective is wider than the human characters could even imagine — while couples talk about babies and romance, the aliens discuss combating ominous intergalactic forces — and this perspective creates a common theme. Though the stories may be separate, from a wider perspective they’re connected by their proximity.
The characters hint at relationships between the disparate stories. The widow and her dead husband meet at the spot where they first met, and they talk about their children. The siblings meet to remember their parents, who met at that exact spot years ago. The special agents track down a robber who examines his loot at the park bench where the agents chat. Apart from these instances though, the stories largely do not connect with each other. They exist autonomously, and their characters and plots do not depend on one another or overlap. Even when characters mention each other, they never meet, and the one tangible connection between all these stories is their common location: the bench in Central Park.
If there is a narrative arch, it is only metaphysical, and only perceivable from an alien dimension. From space, everything on Earth is connected, but from down here the connections are tenuous. New characters are constantly thrown into the mix, preventing continuity in the plot. (The secret agents prove an exception to the general tendency of the characters to disappear after one scene.) And while extraterrestrial beings provide an interesting perspective that manages to somewhat hold the film together, in general 14 Days is a mélange of disparate stories that struggle to connect. There are problems in the film’s production as well, including sloppy camerawork, unconvincing performances, awkward writing, and brief but noticeable problems in sound editing.
The concept for the film is creative, and its sci-fi perspective and extraterrestrial dialogue make for interesting criticism and observation. But the awkward writing, poor acting, dull cinematography, and especially the jumbled plot make this film less than satisfying to watch. ■
Runtime: 54 minutes
Genre: Science Fiction, Dramatic Feature
Country: United States
Find out more
Find out more about this film and its director on the pages for 14 Days and Joseph Villapaz in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) as well as the website of the film’s production company. 14 Days has screened nationally and is the recipient of the Nevada International Film Festival’s Silver Screen Award, the award for best cinematography at the Terror Film Festival in Philadelphia, and other awards. Joseph Villapaz, the film’s writer and director, is an award-winning American filmmaker whose work has received critical acclaim. His recent films include Subversive, Life’s a Minefield, and No One Lives Forever.
This critical review was commissioned and sponsored by the filmmaker.
Featured Image: Johanna Finn in ’14 Days’, directed by Joseph Villapaz.