Before watching The 9th Life of Louis Drax, it’s important to remember that you only have one. If you want to spend your life tasting the tantalizing tingle of suspense, unsure what direction things are headed but ready to follow regardless, find another film. If you want intriguing drama in which the characters speak to you on a deeply personal level, search through your Netflix. If you want to be confused about why you should care about what you watched, then pop in this DVD and put the kettle on.
The film promises to centre around Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth), a boy whose tendency to experience brushes with death is somewhat inconvenient for all involved. On his ninth birthday, he falls from a cliff and is declared dead. Hours later, he comes back to life – a true miracle. After acknowledging this is a miracle, there’s little further investigation and the plot moves on to other characters.
As medical anomalies require brilliant medical minds, we are then introduced to Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan). He doesn’t focus on the impressive rejection of death a small boy has just demonstrated as much as you’d expect a doctor to do. Instead he directs his attention to how attractive he thinks Louis’s mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) is. Natalie’s husband (Aaron Paul) is supposed to have attempted to murder their son, so hitting on her is not the classiest act.
Louis Drax lacks focus. Its overarching plot is lost to an ever-changing colour palette, scenes go nowhere and character traits that hint at a greater purpose are just…there. For example, the child psychologist, kindly named ‘Fat Perez’ (Oliver Platt), appears to have a strange fascination with the boy that comes across as creepy. Don’t worry about it, it’s just his demeanour. Louis murders his pets, suggesting there may be a part of the story looking into his skewed perception of right and wrong, but it’s just brushed aside and the only consequence is that he gets bought new hamsters.
The supernatural element of the film is introduced too late for the audience to be truly invested in it. Instead of a thrilling aspect which evokes genuine curiosity, it feels shoved in because they needed to finish the story. Up until the point it is revealed as real, anything out of the ordinary had been a dream sequence.
Much of this film feels disconnected from itself; there is no identity to its technical aspects. Movies often choose a colour design for the entirety. Here, we have scenes which apparently just settle with whatever the weather was doing. In seconds we can go from a dark room with too much glare to a lovely sunny day. The sudden drastic changes are jarring in how unintentional they seem. It feels rushed, as though they managed to film nearly two hours of cinema in 20 minutes. Some special effects do improve credibility. Rippling water around a hospital beds which transitions to the boy’s imagination is genuinely great to look at.
Characterisation and acting leave room for improvement. The Louis that narrates events comes across as a different character to the one who is seen in therapy sessions. The narration over bright, happy scenes is provided by a cheery and curious child. The other version is actual satan, murdering hamsters with copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and insulting people to relieve boredom. It is difficult to find yourself concerned about the unfortunate events which impact a child who clearly poses a threat to living creatures and others’ sanity. In defence of the actor, all the characters are awful people and the performances are generally weak, with reactions to dialogue briefly occurring after an actor has heard their cue .
It is not as though the script was impossible to work with, as Sarah Gadon clearly put in effort and was the strongest performer. Her advances towards men in her life were suitably ominous and the concern for her son raised appropriate levels of suspicion. Jamie Dornan’s biggest fault is his inability to maintain an American accent, and it’s something that stands out especially when it did not need be a problem at all. The character’s name was changed along with the French location from the book to create a more audience-friendly American setting. Why not change things a little more and just make the character Irish? Dornan’s a better actor when using his natural voice and it would have been a lot less distracting. There are, after all, English characters. This is not a hospital that prohibits migrant workers.
Aaron Paul may be able to cling onto the star power and credibility provided by Breaking Bad for the rest of his life, but he is given little to do within this film and doesn’t attempt to increase his screen presence. We are never given any reason to feel anything for him, only to acknowledge he exists. His relationship with Louis feels fake, is described as such, and yet later we are led to believe it was one of deep love that just happened to never be on screen.
There is some entertainment value to be found, but it takes a dedicated film fan to feel they have exhausted the genre and end up here. So many scenes can be summed up with ‘for some reason’ (they go to a kid’s birthday party…for some reason. Dr. Pascal and his wife go on a five second drive…for some reason). The twist at the end becomes apparent midway through and, given characters tend to accidentally narrate what they’re doing to other characters, is surprising it wasn’t completely spelled out before the big reveal. Nothing is handled as well as it could be and it is the potential which lets this film down.
Dir: Alexandre Aja
Scr: Max Minghella
Prd: Alexandre Aja, Timothy Bricknell, Max Minghella, Shawn Williamson
Cast: Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Aiden Longworth, Oliver Platt
D.O.P: Maxime Alexandre
Music: Patrick Watson
Run time: 115 minutes
The 9th Life of Louis Drax will be available on DVD and Blu-ray February 6th.