Directed by: Alexandre Aja
Cast: Jamie Dornan, Aiden Longworth, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul
This, like A Monster Calls is one of those films that bends the limitations of genre. Sure, it’s a dramatic work, but it’s also crawling with science fiction nods and a tone – and a major conflict point – that screams horror. When all is said and done, it’s hard to recognize the film as anything other than an extremely diverse picture designed to appeal to a very large audience; if moviegoers give it a chance, it’s going to win those audiences over.
Alexandre Aja, who genre fans will know as the man behind successful horror pieces, High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha and Horns, steps behind the camera for what can be considered his first professional foray outside the genre. And Aja really makes it count. Horns received mixed reviews from fans and critics alike, so it may not be your bag, but The 9th Life of Louis Drax feels like a film poised to be much more universally loved, by those who stick to the genre and those who don’t, alike. As a film fan who doesn’t spend too much time checking out non-horror works, I can tell you it’s one of the better flicks (that I watched) to see release in 2016.
The story proposes a simple question: What is going on with Louis Drax, and why is he not only wildly accident prone, but seemingly able to survive just about anything? As the film moves forward we see Louis in his worst state yet, comatose and struggling to survive a fall that’s damn near succeeded in killing the poor kid. Psychologist, Allan Pascal takes a serious interest in the case, and before long he finds himself as enamored with Louis’ mother as Louis himself. And that’s when some strange, supernatural stuff begins to unravel, leaving one psychologist mystified at the atypical situation he’s found himself in. But, mystified or not, he’s still got a job to do, which is piece together Louis Drax’s strange life and solve the boy’s gut wrenching mystery.
The movie yanks at the heart strings. It’s going to break your heart at times, and it’s going to piss you off at times, as well. But that’s the nature of the story, which I can’t discuss too much for fear of spoiling a solid piece. I can tell you that the protective nature that comes with fatherhood really boiled to the surface as the grand answer to the mystery begins to come into focus. If you have kids, it may mess with your mental state a bit more than you anticipate.
As a father, I can respect a number of sequences, and it’s a joy to issue enormous praise for Aaron Paul who does a stellar job of quietly stealing the show as the struggling father figure of Louis. Jamie Dornan and Sarah Gadon turn in strong work as the film’s leads, and young Aiden Longworth is excellent in portraying the titular character, but it’s Paul who emerges as the film’s greatest winner. There’s an exchange that unravels in the film’s later moments between Louis and his father that turned me into a complete puddle, and in this one specific moment, Aaron Paul’s status as one of the business’ true elite, award worthy performers is solidified. I’ve always respected Aaron’s work, but he won me over in an entirely different way with this performance, and I’ll never view the man in the same light. Aaron was great in Breaking Bad, and I enjoyed Exodus: Gods and Kings as well as The Last House on the Left, but The 9th Life of Louis Drax convinced me that Aaron Paul is deserving of being recognized as an equal to the very best alive – he’s on that Daniel Day-Lewis level of genius, and that’s simply remarkable.
I’ll return to The 9th Life of Louis Drax soon, and it takes a really impressive picture to call me back for return viewings. Alexandre Aja impresses, and he’s got a strong cast at his disposal, all completely game to tell a memorable tale. I don’t like the direction of the story – because I’m a sensitive father – but that’s the nature of this beast – that’s what the story is, a tough, emotionally challenging tale. It isn’t an uplifting piece, and it isn’t supposed to be. In other words, everyone succeeded in telling the story they set out to tell. From Aja and the cast to Max Minghella and his riveting adaptation of Liz Jensen’s excellent novel, it’s nothing but homerun after homerun in The 9th Life of Louis Drax.