D: Alexandre Aja / 108m
Cast: Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Oliver Platt, Molly Parker, Terry Chen, Julian Wadham, Barbara Hershey
Narrated by the title character, The 9th Life of Louis Drax introduces us to a nine year old boy who is always having near-fatal accidents. His ninth involves a cliff-top fall into the sea while on a picnic with his parents, Natalie (Gadon) and Peter (Paul). While Louis (Longworth) is rescued but trapped in a coma, mystery surrounds his father, who is missing, and his mother, who may or may not be telling the truth about what happened. While the police (Parker, Chen) investigate, Louis’s care falls under the remit of pediatric coma specialist Dr Allan Pascal (Dornan). He believes that Louis can recover in time, even though there are no signs to support this, Louis having been diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state.
Over time, Pascal finds himself growing closer to Natalie, while also delving into Louis’s past medical history, including his visits to a psychiatrist, Dr Perez (Platt). It soon becomes clear that there is a mystery surrounding Louis’s accidents, and letters begin appearing that seem to have been written by Louis – which is impossible. Meanwhile, in his coma, Louis is discovering truths about his life that he has been aware of but has suppressed. As the mystery begins to unravel, both Pascal and Louis come to realise that strange forces are at work, and that neither will remain unaffected by them.
If you know nothing about The 9th Life of Louis Drax before settling down to watch it, then the direction that it takes in telling its story may baffle you or seem inexplicably weird. This will be due to the dreamlike fantasy world that Louis inhabits inside his coma, a place where a gravel-voiced sea creature acts as a guide in allowing Louis to understand his past, and what it means for the present. It’s these scenes which are both fascinating and frustrating in equal measure, though, as Max Minghella’s adaptation of the novel by Liz Jensen uses these scenes to explain – at length – what has been going on, and why. While they are necessary in terms of the plot, their presence does, however, make the movie a more sluggish beast (much like the sea creature itself) than it needs to be.
Indeed, the pacing is a problem throughout, with a rapid compendium of Louis’s previous eight “lives” given a Jeunet-esque run-through, before the movie settles down to tell a (mostly) more conventional story. But it only ever really convinces in terms of the relationship between Louis and Peter, while Pascal’s attraction to Natalie feels very much like a tired, hoary old plot device that’s never going to go anywhere (and despite a last-minute reveal that will either have you groaning or grinning – or both). Likewise, Louis is another of those precocious pre-teens whose grasp of human dynamics and adult language only occurs in the movies. The performances are adequate – Gadon’s Natalie though, looks culpable right from the start – but the movie itself is a pedestrian affair that lacks pace and energy, and struggles to make you care about Louis or the people around him.
Rating: 5/10 – some arresting visuals aside, The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a slow, unengaging movie that tries to present its story as a puzzle-box mystery, but fails to make it anything more than a run-of-the-mill thriller; with Aja seemingly unable to elevate the material to the level it needs to reach to be effective, this has to go down as a missed opportunity, and yet another movie that doesn’t do its source material any justice.