2016 | rated R | starring Aiden Longworth, Jamie Dornan, Oliver Platt, Aaron Paul, Molly Parker | directed by Alexandre Aja | 1hr 48mins |
Studio Pitch: A pioneer member of the French new wave horror movement turns to an adult fairy tale.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax peaked my interest because of the involvement of director Alexandre Aja, who I’ve been following since he kickstarted the French new wave horror movement with High Tension. With Drax, Aja completes his half turn started with Horns away from horror and branches out with a full-blown adult fairy tale.
9 year old Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth, carrying the film) is the world’s most accident prone child, everything he does seems to result in illnesses, broken bones and electrocutions. He and his mother start to believe he has more lives than a cat, able to effortlessly bounce back from each thing until one day he falls backward over a cliff and winds up in a coma. Childhood coma expert Jamie Dornan reaches out to the boy’s psychologist (Oliver Platt) while the police (Molly Parker) searches for his stepfather (Aaron Paul) who they believe pushed him over.
Starting with what this movie does right, Aja understands how to construct an adult fairy tale. Rather than a wacky story told in a serious way, Drax takes more of the approach perfected by Pan’s Labyrinth. An adult, dark (very dark as it goes) story told in a wacky way from a child’s perspective. The movie opens with a jolting montage of Louis accidents that sets the tone on a nicely twisted note. It even has it’s own version of the Faun in a hideous barnacle covered beast that looks like a villain out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie who guides Louis.
It’s everything outside of Louis’ world that falls completely flat. The performances fall flat. The mystery falls flat. The half realized sci-fi where Dornan (who is often lit in angelic soft focus) hooks himself up to Louis and tries to enter his coma feels like something we’ve seen a hundred times before in pre-The Cell 1970s sci-fi films. Ultimately much of the thrust of the movie becomes a miserable to watch domestic drama where Louis’ mother and stepfather (Paul is woefully miscast in the drunken abusive stepfather cliché) turn the soundtrack of his young life into constant screaming.
Louis Drax doesn’t delve into the drama of this, not understanding that wallowing in emotion would have made the film more effective. Instead it divides it’s time with a detective mystery and more hollow visual trickery as Louis journeys through his own unconscious mind (it’s not as interesting as it sounds). If you stick with it, there is a reward at the end. A nice, as said dark, surprising solution that wraps all this up in a way I really liked. The Hitchcockian real world solution to something that seems fantastical. It is might just redeems the entire movie. It is that strong.
Was this a studio gig for Aja? Was it an attempt to spread his wings as a filmmaker? It’s an admirable effort by Aja, who juggles a host of conflicting tones to keep the movie from being entirely forgettable, but also doesn’t bring it to life with no help from the typically wooden acting style of Jamie Dornan. If Alexandre Aja wanted to go back and make another campy, gory horror movie I would be very ok with that.