Movie review: The 9th Life of Louis Drax
Alexandre Aja’s background in horror brings a dark edge to the story of a little boy who falls off a cliff, lands in a coma and narrates a mysterious tale from hospital bed limbo
The 9th Life of Louis Drax
Starring: Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Aiden Longworth, Oliver Platt, Molly Parker
Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Running time: 1hr 48 mins
MPAA Rating: Restricted
By Katherine Monk
He directed the moronic remake of The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, so forgive me if I had low, or no, expectations for Alexandre Aja’s latest, The 9th Life of Louis Drax. Adapted from Liz Jensen’s bestselling novel from 2004, the story revolves around little Louis (Aiden Longworth), an accident-prone kid who falls off a cliff on his ninth birthday.
When we meet him, he’s in a coma – speaking to us from a magical state of limbo as a near-omniscient narrator. He tells us about his early tumbles and scars, as well as life with his mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), and his father, Peter (Aaron Paul).
The couple was not happy, so when Peter disappears shortly after Louis’s near-death fall, things look fishy. The police, embodied here by Molly Parker, begin an investigation and so does the charismatic Dr. Pascal (Jamie Dornan)—a pediatric neurologist who specializes in childhood comas.
Dr. Pascal believes kids in comas are experiencing life on a different level and so does this movie. After all, we’re introduced to Louis by Louis himself as he weaves fragments of his life together that Aja turns into visual vignettes, each one laced with childish icons and images, lending a slightly creepy and surreal feel to the sequences.
Dr. Pascal wants to help Louis heal by giving him the power to face his demons on the other side, but it’s not long before Dr. Pascal is facing a few demons of his own.
Natalie Drax is beautiful, vulnerable and skilled at making men feel needed. She charms Dr. Pascal with her looks and her maternal concern, immediately clouding his judgment and putting Louis’s recovery in jeopardy.
It’s a plot that demands a great deal of restraint, and to Aja’s credit, he exercises just the right amount of creative stinginess to make this thriller transcend the B-movie cheese layer.
Part of the successful detour around the plot potholes is the moody location. Shot entirely in and around Vancouver, the film is steeped in gray tones that play well to the film’s moral ambiguity. The frames are dark, heavy and basted in autumnal palettes that scream “Fall!”
It’s a nice running motif for a film that pivots on a great tumble and Aja has the artistic sensitivity to pull it off without pandering or pulling punches.
The film captures something of a child’s reality, where nothing really fits together because the emotions are so out of proportion to everything else. Louis may be lying unconscious in a hospital bed for the duration, but we feel his voice and his presence in everything that appears before the camera, whether it’s little animated drawings or foreboding snippets of his parents’ domestic life.
Gadon and Paul are fantastic together, amping up the mystery through every interaction, and young Vancouver talent Aiden Longworth holds his own among the adults. Oliver Platt’s appearance as a child therapist is also sharp and surprisingly witty, ensuring the movie has a few lighter moments to contrast its moody shades.
The only real weakness is Dornan, who feels entirely too benign to be interesting. There’s something boyish in Dornan’s big blue eyes that dulls the film’s underlying thriller edge. He doesn’t feel dangerous or even all that charismatic, despite his ample good looks and his believable performance as a celebrated neuroscientist.
All the adults in this movie needed to be a little suspect, and you can feel Aja’s desire to blur character in a bid to ramp up the suspense and capture a murky, Sixth Sense style.
He gets part of it through the landscapes, the evocative production design and the collective performance value from the cast, but The 9th Life of Louis Drax finally falls a little too flat emotionally and doesn’t linger in the imagination, where all movies about kids have to at least visit – if not live.
THE EX-PRESS, September 2, 2016