The 9th Life of Louis Drax, 2016.
Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Starring Jamie Dornan, Aaron Paul, Sarah Gadon, Aiden Longworth, Barbara Hershey, Oliver Platt and Molly Parker.
A psychologist who begins working with a young boy who has suffered a near-fatal fall finds himself drawn into a mystery that tests the boundaries of fantasy and reality.
To its credit, The 9th Life of Louis Drax, akin to director Alexandre Aja’s previous work, is almost impossible to pigeonhole. At once a touching fantasy drama with its feet deep in the YA market, at others a bizarre, somewhat intense psychological drama. For the interest of the viewer, it fails at both, becoming something far more alike to an arduous Lifetime/Hallmark feature that happens to have a budget.
Jamie Dornan, more door than man, stars as Dr. Allan Pascal, a gifted (!) psychologist (!), who finds himself working with a young boy-the titular Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth)-who has had a near fatal fall, the 9th in a series of near-death incidents. His mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) is an emotional wreck, his father Peter (Aaron Paul) has disappeared. To unravel the mystery of Louis’s accident, Pascal must test the boundary of fantasy and reality by doing that thing what happened in Inception.
D.P Maxime Alexandre attempts and fails to give the entire affair a dreamlike wooziness, drenching every frame in fog, shooting it all in soft focus, as if more an 80s Prince video. This, surprisingly, lends itself rather well to Max Minghella’s head-scratching, gob-smackingly ill-judged script. Characters resemble not real people, but caricatures ripped out of piss-poor erotic thrillers sold at airports; the smoldering doctor, the beautiful innocent mother, the misunderstood but tough father.
And Jamie Dornan, who smoldered his way through Fifty Shades of Grey and smoldered as a psychopath in The Fall, again smolders, this time as a bafflingly terrible doctor. In the mid-90s, Cartoon Network released Ed, Edd n Eddy, in which a certain character’s singular friend was that of a plank of wood named Plank. Dornan’s performance is reminiscent of Plank. Every line is read with that annoying teenage-girl up talk inflection, every moment of drama looks as if Dornan is struggling with the source material. And you can’t blame him. Although his performance is truly terrible; the script, the direction, the cinematography contaminate all.
As to whether its aware of its silliness is debatable. It plays itself as a hard drama while pairing moments of borderline erotica with sequences in which Dornan pretends to be a small child reminiscing a day on the beach; then nonsensical moments of fantasy as Louis wanders through the afterlife with a strange sea creature. It’s a puzzle made up of pieces from other puzzles big and small clearly not meant to fit together.
As with his previous films, there’s an issue with Aja’s treatment of women. Where Horns showed women as either figures of innocence or promiscuity, Louis Drax presents women as psychopaths or stuck-up, frigid wives. Sarah Gadon – who again deserves so much more-simply has to weep, then fuck, then weep.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a terribly misjudged film. It’s a moving family drama, a study of depression, a piece of fantasy aimed at children, it’s an 80s Sharon Stone erotic thriller yet it ends on a note so silly, it’s difficult to not be charmed by its absolute idiocy.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★