THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX (2016)
Review by Paul McMahon – “The Distracted Critic”
My attention span isn’t what it should be. As such, I rarely watch a movie from start to finish. If the action drags, if I start to feel antsy, I’ll pause it and walk away. I tally those “time outs” at the end of the column, so you’ll know how often the movie is likely to bore you. That is, if you’re anything like me. –The Distracted Critic
A little while back, I reassessed the movie MIRRORS by one of my favorite directors, Alexandre Aja. In doing so, I discovered he’d directed a film I’d never heard of called THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX. The trailer didn’t look like anything he’d done before, so it intrigued me completely. Check it out here.
The movie starts out with the voiceover of a young boy, Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth), telling us about the many accidents and injuries he’s suffered in his short life. Crushed rib cage, broken arm, electrocution, various and sundry food poisonings, that kind of thing. He tells us that he’s expected to have the “accident of all accidents,” and if we ever see a falling boy, it’ll be him. He warns us about the monster without a face, then tells us that his mother believes he is an angel.
We see him falling off a cliff, but his expression is wrong. He looks resigned, rather than terrified. He lands in deep water, sinks, and a monstrous voice asks him to tell his story. The monster says that together they will uncover the secret of the falling boy.
Now, a helicopter flies over the ocean. Police scour the top of the cliff, placing yellow crime scene numbers around items on a picnic blanket while a detective announces that the rain is washing away the footprints and ruining evidence. There’s no sign of the boy’s Dad, Peter Drax (Aaron Paul, NEED FOR SPEED, 2014, though still best known for playing Jesse Pinkman on TV’s BREAKING BAD), so they put out an APB on him, sure that he pushed the boy off the cliff.
Louis isn’t breathing, is rushed into the ER, and doctors go to work on him frantically. He doesn’t respond, though, and is pronounced dead.
At a TED talk nearby, Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan, best known for playing Christian Grey in the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY movie series) tells his tale of sleepwalking when he was a kid. It inspired him grow up to be a brain specialist. Meanwhile, a jolly coroner pushes Louis’s body into his theater, lowers the sheet covering his face, then jerks away when Louis takes a gasping breath. Back at the TED talk, Pascal gets an urgent call from a hospital, a case involving a child who’s been dead for two hours and is in a coma.
Dr. Pascal speaks with Louis’s mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon, ANTIVIRAL, 2012, and A DANGEROUS METHOD, 2011), who claims she and Louis have always been able to communicate without speaking. She seems fragile and sad, and their conversation is interrupted by Louis’s voiceover again, telling us that good sons don’t make their mothers cry. When the voice pauses, the monster voice coaxes more information.
Louis tells the voice about his visits to Dr. Perez (Oliver Platt, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, 2011 and FLATLINERS, 1990), a therapist. Louis talks about everything with Dr. Perez, their conversations range all over the place. Perez asks if Louis has read any good books lately. Louis says he’s read the Bible. His favorite part was the snake, because Adam was stupid. Then, out of the blue, Louis asks Perez how many dollars these sessions cost. He says sitting around asking people to “Go on” while racking up the bucks seems like the life to have. Perez asks if Louis is looking forward to growing up. Louis scoffs. “I’m never growing up,” he says.
Another time, Louis looks at Dr. Perez and asks: “Am I a typical disturbed child?”
In a flashback, we see Louis and his dad visit Sea World to “give Mom a break.” They run into a woman Peter knows, and Peter explains to Louis that he used to be married to her. He asks Louis not to tell Mom, but that’s the first thing he does when he gets home. Peter and Natalie have a huge fight about it. Louis tells Dr. Perez that they try to hide the fact that they don’t love each other, but he’s on to them.
One night, Dr. Pascal brings a book to Louis’s bedside, where he still lies in a coma. He starts to read aloud, but soon hears something moving around behind him. He investigates, and follows a trail of mud and seaweed stretching from the coma ward to the morgue. Here, he discovers a hulking sea beast cowering behind a gurney.
THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX is a departure from director Alexandre Aja’s usual style. There’s no crushing life-threatening suspense, as in his HIGH TENSION (2003), there’s no joyous extravaganza of blood and guts, as in his PIRHANA 3-D (2010), and there’s only one monster that shows up sporadically, unlike the plethora of mutants from his remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006). There’s only a token nod to the horror genre here and there. This story is more eccentric and quirky and heartfelt than anything he’s done before.
Writer Max Minghella (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010, and THE IDES OF MARCH, 2011), wrote the screenplay from a novel by English novelist Liz Jensen. He’s done a wonderful job balancing all the intricacies of the book and making them visual. Aja has also done a fantastic job of sticking with the story and not dressing it up so the movie matches his “style.” Both of them have taken risks and tackled something with a high possibility of failure.
While the film is uneven in places, and lets the viewer in on the ending far too early, THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX is far more success than failure. I loved the almost constant questioning of philosophical ideas (at one point, Louis’s mother asks Dr. Pascal “Is the brain the same thing as the soul?”), and the constant bending of reality and time to tell the story.
Aiden Longworth gives an excellent performance, finding complexities of emotion and expression which can’t have been easy at his young age. Sarah Gadon is terrific, delivering deep complexities in her character that make the whole movie hum. Aaron Paul is terrific, and honestly, I’ve never seen him deliver anything less than that. What’s it going to take to push him into the upper echelon of movie actors? The rest of the cast is equally fantastic, and includes Barbara Hershey as Louis’s paternal grandmother.
THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX contains a little magic realism, a little psycho-drama, and a little monster movie, wrapped up in a complete package that is well worth your time despite its uneven spots. Aja has proven he’s not all about horror, and I hope to see him continue to stretch and grow in the future. Very well done, all the way around.
I give THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX four knives, and zero time outs.
© Copyright 2017 by Paul McMahon
Paul McMahon gives THE 9TH LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX ~four knives.