The 9th Life Of Louis Drax is…well…interesting. Let’s put it that way. Surely you’d think a comatose boy’s adventure through subconscious waters (literal representation) would trump all, but – or, rather, instead – we’re presented an overbearing story about the dangers of infidelity. Alexandre Aja attempts to parlay his stranglehold on horror into something more darkly whimsical, which unfortunately doesn’t translate into intensified family drama.
It’s pretty harmless younger-adult material adapted from Liz Jensen’s source novelization, and by harmless, I mean a sobering lullaby that ushers in dreamland. Blame blandness, blame Jamie Dornan’s papier-mâché exterior, blame tone deaf narration – honestly, blame it all – because there’s a touching story buried underneath all this soap-opera daddy drama. One that’s damn hard to find…
Young Aiden Longworth stars as Louis Drax, otherwise known as the “Amazing Accident Prone Boy.” All Louis’ life he’s been dealt a bum hand, as the up-beat child found himself in some type of predicament day after day. Food poisoning, broken arms, spider bites – Louis has dealt with them all, but nothing compares to what he calls the “Accident To End All Accidents.”
While enjoying a cliffside picnic with his mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) and father Peter (Aaron Paul), Louis falls off the edge and plunges into the sea. This puts Louis into a coma, where he ends up under the care of Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan). It’s here that Dr. Pascal meets Natalie, followed by other-worldly encounters and his growing obsession with the Drax case. But who is Dr. Pascal interested in more – Louis, or Natalie?
First off, let’s address how heavy-handed Aja is with Max Minghella’s cheater-heavy script, which addresses relationship issues through the eyes of a confused child. From the minute Dr. Pascal (a married man) and Natalie (a married woman) meet, you know they’re eventually going to bump uglies. Even Dornan’s minimal emotions convey how enamored Natalie and Dr. Pascal are with one another, slicing tension in half before it’s ever manifested.
Both leading men (Dornan and Paul) are depicted as such shitty, careless “guys” (Dr. Pascal gazing at Natalie right in front of his wife), continually hitting on a strange gender battle without any social commentary beyond an after-school special. It’s the whole “boys will be boys” angle, nauseatingly harped on with literal winks and nudges. Each secretive romp is goofy in its inability to remain secret, like a drunken sorority girl who giggles slyly when asked about her previous night. Ah, the lost art of subtlety…
Then there’s Longworth’s narration, so childish and bright despite obvious actions happening on-screen. You’d assume his blunt, juvenile views would be comical in their blurted observations (calling Oliver Platt fat to his face), but when shovelled between talk about broken families and comas, each joke seems flat – or even worse – out of place. Louis’ words propel us through his family’s breakdown, but the simplistic nature of such exploration makes for a duller, obvious watch that plays it incredibly, mind-numbingly safe.
Plus, Louis is kind of a little dick, even if he is just a kid. During a flashback, Peter instructs Louis not to let Natalie know about a Sea World encounter with Peter’s ex-wife, so what does Louis do? Literally the first conversation Louis has with Natalie goes like this: “And we met dad’s old wife…” Louis Drax, you little, rat-faced bitch. Is it weird that I didn’t feel sympathy for a boy stuck in a coma due to his kinda dickish nature (and for other reasons in delivery, I swear)?
Performances are a bit stronger, but still remain in this storybook realm somewhere far from reality (because comatose kids narrate stories in reality, I know). Sarah Gadon is naive and Stepfordian in her doe-eyed appearance, while Dornan walks around with that same Jamie Dornan look plastered on his face no matter what emotion a scene calls for. Apparently Dornan’s “I love you” face is the same as his “getting beaten in racquetball face,” which makes it hard to tell what Dr. Pascal is ever actually thinking.
Aaron Paul is much easier to read, as he commands tears and conviction with a much tighter grasp. All three work with Longworth, whose acting is that of a wide-eyed child caught in some strange world where a blog of gunk acts as his guide – so, better than his narration! But, again, it’s all very schmaltzy (one of those movies where its prancy score never ceases), playing out some scripted fantasy like lines are being red off a teleprompter.
As the ever-changing narrative plays out, twists and turns reveal The 9th Life Of Louis Drax to be something more complex than an accident, as expected – but the dead-air nature of Aja’s vision makes each punch strike with a less and less force. The story itself is ripe with old-school investigative glam, except the cops are a bit Diet CSI, the suspects are obvious marks, and victims surprisingly chill.
It’s a formula that adds up into a suspense-devoid thriller whose shocks are balance with a coma patient’s assertions that everything sucks – sweet when it shouldn’t be, and rigid in execution. It might possibly be fun enough for younger viewers, but the film needs a lot more “Aja” for those more learned genre-hybrid fans expecting a bit less tonal carelessness – and a lot more emphasis on the whole “mystery” classification.