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Louis (Aiden Longworth) is either a very unlucky or unbelievably fortunate child. For nearly nine years, he’s endured a string of accidents that should have killed him, including food poisoning, insect bites, electrocutions, and other catastrophes that he has, in no uncertain terms, miraculously recovered from. It keeps his naturally protective mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) in a state of constant worry, though she is convinced he must be some sort of an angel.
One day, while on a picnic with his mother and his estranged father Peter (Aaron Paul), he wanders too close to the cliff’s edge at Land’s End and falls off, plummeting to the water below. Doctor’s pronounce him dead in the hospital, his body seemingly broken beyond repair. A few hours later though, as he’s wheeled into the hospital morgue, he suddenly stirs awake and slips into a coma where he is moved into the care of pediatric specialist Dr. Allen (Jamie Dornan), a radical therapist who believes that despite Louis’ vegetative state, can still sense things and perhaps they can learn the truth as to what happened.
Meanwhile, Louis narrates and speaks with a sea monster who asks Louis to tell him the story of his life and his sessions with a therapist named Dr. Perez (Oliver Platt), as the hunt for Peter, now suspected of pushing Louis, brings Detective Dalton (Molly Parker) onto the case. As evidence mounts and a strange discovery is made, the mystery of Louis the child hinges on the complicated relationships of the adults.
Directed by Alexandre Aja, The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is an odd mix of a movie, beginning as a light, even comically toned children’s tale that quickly shifts into an adult thriller and police procedural. It has sweeping kid-friendly fantastical elements with John Williams-esque score cues and disturbing almost horror-like moments that conjure imagery of Guillermo del Toro. The film seems to be about Louis but shifts a lot of its attention onto Dr. Allen as questions arise about his intentions and investigation as things unfold that unravel everything we suspect is true.
Part of the film takes place in Louis’ mind so to speak, as he spends his time talking with a sea monster, who naturally is part metaphor and part, well, something else that I won’t revel. As Louis lies in a coma, he seems able to control Dr. Allen and in so doing, helps to uncover the truth. Allen is hopelessly drawn to the beautiful Natalie, practically abandoning his marriage in order to have her, all while he comes to realize that Louis is a lot more than he seems. And is full of interesting stories.
By the third act, the movie becomes a supernatural tale of sorts as the two doctors find a way to have Louis speak through Allen. This is not much of a stretch by the time it happens as the film builds to it with a number of leaps to that stage. The screenplay, by Max Minghella, based on the book by Liz Jensen, is heavy at times and congested with subplots that tend to take away from the central premise, not to mention keep the tonal imbalance a major part of the problem. The mystery is never very compelling nor is the outcome of Louis, as each are spread too thin by contrived character decisions and a fantastical scapegoat that solves everything with what can only be described as magic, making the entire role of Detective Dalton superfluous.
Creative decisions aside, there’s no denying the performances are good. Paul, while limited to a small part, is very good again, and so too is Platt, very convincing as the boy’s therapist. Gadon is alluring and vulnerable and sells the part with sincerity, though Dornan is the weakest, stiff and never really invested. Then there is Longworth, who carries the film, an engaging and authentic young actor who does some very strong work, even if the script lets him down occasionally.
The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is a title that promises something it is not, sounding more like a child’s highly-imaginative adventure story though is anything but as themes of abuse, death, adultery, murder, and supernatural powers turn this into a dark thriller instead. None of that is entirely a bad thing, just that all together, it is mishandled and ultimately can’t live up to the emotional pay off it strives for.
Movie description: The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is a drama about a young boy who suffers a series of accidents and comes under the care of a psychologist that is drawn into a world between reality and fantasy.
Director(s): Alexandre Aja
Actor(s): Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth, Sarah Gadon