The biggest problem with The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is the constant sense that this is a movie that could have been absolutely brilliant, but it sadly isn’t. It’s not bad, and there’s plenty that’s interesting about it (although it could have been fascinating), but it never quite manages to work out what it’s doing.
The titular Louis Drax is an accident prone nine-year-old boy, whose parents have recently separated. After falling from a cliff on an outing with his mother and father, he is rushed to the hospital in a coma, where he comes under the care of Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan). Louis also needs protection, as it’s believed his father, Peter (Aaron Paul), caused the accident and is now on the run.
The film a mix of what happens in the real world, and what’s going on in Louis’ comatose subconscious. We see Louis’ remembrances of his homelife and the endless series of accidents that have befallen him, his trips to psychiatrist Dr. ‘Fatty’ Perez (Oliver Platt) and slowly towards what really happened on the cliff. He relates all this to what initially sounds like a demonic voice, but reveals itself to be a sort of seaweed monster.
In the real world, the police are looking for Louis’ dad and also trying to figure out what exactly landed Louis in the hospital. Dr. Pascal slowly gets closer to Louis’ mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), who seems lost and possibly in danger from her husband. Then, odd things start happening, including Dr. Pascal and Natalie receiving letters that look like they were written by a comatose Louis, and the doctor has dreams where he sees a strange creature.
By necessity The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is an unusual mix of genres – thriller, police procedural, romantic drama, supernatural mystery and even a bit of sci-fi thrown in – but it never quite pulls itself into something that feels cohesive in its own right. The tone shifts all over the place, and not just between the unreliable narrator musings inside Louis head and what’s happening in the real world, but between the various different genres and narrative tricks it tries to use. What should make it work is the magical realist touches that are shot through the entire thing, but it doesn’t fully work as it keeps missing out steps that would allow the audience to accept its odder touches without feeling like they fell in from a different film.
It’s strange, as its symbolism and Hitchcock homages result in the ‘twist’ being too obvious too early on, while its comparative subtlety in regards of bringing the magical aspects into the ‘real’ world, mean that the ending could quite easily be seen as convenient, if not downright silly. The only reason it doesn’t come across as completely stupid is because it’s clear what the movie is trying to do, and that if it had reached the transcendence it’s striving for it might have been magnificent.
What also helps ensure the movie doesn’t completely fall off a cliff is Aaron Paul, who put sin a brilliant performance as Louis’s dad, and it’s him that brings power to the film towards the end. What happens with his character is the only magical realist touch that works perfectly, thanks to Paul’s performance and the fact the script seems more interested in him and Louis than anyone else. That results in Louis and Peter are interesting characters, while Pascal and Natalie – who are ostensibly the film’s leads – are relatively flat and uninteresting. To be fair, they do try to bring in some interesting things about them as the movie goes on, but by then it’s too late.
It is a real shame, as the ingredients are there for something truly special, but instead of transformative, it feels messy and indecisive about how to do what it’s trying to do. Director Alexandre Aja, who made his name with balls out horror such as High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D, certainly puts in a lot of effort and the movie does look good. However, The 9th Life Of Louis Drax suffers from the same problems as his last effort alongside screenwriter Max Minghella, the Daniel Radcliffe movie Horns, which is that it’s a high concept movie that know it has a lot to offer and it knows what it should be offering, but it never finds a tone to pull things together, or indeed discover the true depths of its mysteries.
Overall Verdict: The 9th Life Of Louis Drax could have been brilliant, but its inability to pull together its complex mix of genres and ideas means its far less successful than it might have been. It’s a real shame as it could have been brilliant.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac