Jamie Dornan in The 9th Life of Louis Drax
David M. Benett/ Eamonn M. McCormack/ Tim Whitby/ Getty Images
(Lainey: Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan were in London yesterday to promote The Fall S3, even though I can’t find a release date. There is a trailer though. And you can currently see Jamie in theatres in The 9th Life Of Louis Drax. Her review is below. Both trailers follow.)
I’m going to try to do this one spoiler-free, because The 9th Life of Louis Drax is supposed to be a mystery and the whole third act turns on a whodunit reveal, but if you can’t figure it out by the halfway mark, then I hope you had a nice nap. The only way to miss where this is going is to not watch the movie. Directed by French horror filmmaker Alexandre Aja, whose films have steadily gotten worse (High Tension: Great; Piranha 3D: Enjoyably bad; Horns: Rage inducing), knows how to craft a technically impressive film, but as he’s gotten more involved in visual landscapes and genre-bending tones, his storytelling has gotten loose to the point of sloppy.
Adapted by Max Minghella—a veteran of Horns and also logging his first screenwriting credit—from Liz Jensen’s novel, Drax is equal parts Hitchcock, Shyamalan, and utter nonsense. The film requires rather extensive voice-over at the beginning and end to make sure we get it, but really, the story isn’t THAT complicated. It’s just set up in such a way as to feel tricky and complicated, but you can see the resolution coming from a mile away. Hell, you can probably figure it out just from the trailer.
The movie begins with nine-year-old Louis Drax—a total book name that looks good on paper but sounds increasingly ridiculous the more often it’s said out loud—telling us about his many strange and nearly fatal accidents throughout his life. Aja really does know what he’s doing with the technical craft of filmmaking, so this sequence is done in a charming storybook style that really doesn’t require voice over. Alas.
Played by Aiden Longworth, Louis is exactly the kind of annoying movie kid you root to fall off a cliff, and he obliges by promptly falling off a cliff. The fall doesn’t kill him, however, it just lands him in a coma, which brings him to the attention of Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), who is a medical loose cannon willing to take any risk to reach his patient. Dornan is amazingly unsuited for this role—he is simply not emotive enough to suggest a passionate, risk-taking doctor.
The story is told in two parts, one the dreamy coma-world of Louis, and the other the real world of Dr. Pascal as he tries to unwind what really happened that day on the cliffs. Suspicion has fallen on Louis’ dad, Peter (Aaron Paul, underutilized), a former boxer with a temper. And Dr. Pascal becomes enamored with Louis’ mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), a beautiful, icy blonde in the Hitchcock vein. Have you seen a film noir? You should get where this is going.
There is some really striking imagery, especially in Louis’ interior world, and Aja knows how to scare people, so individual scenes work just fine. But none of it amounts to anything as the movie is neither effective mystery nor compelling crime procedural. The result is that Drax feels self-important, a movie that thinks it’s confounding us when really it’s just kind of boring. Louis himself is insufferable, and the third act reveal is set up to be a big twist but it’s just a logical conclusion that is telegraphed early in the film. Despite its pretensions, The 9th Life of Louis Drax is not hard to figure out, and no amount of beautifully lit dream imagery makes up for a recycled whodunit.