February 9, 2017


Starring Allan Pascal, Natalie Drax, Aiden Longworth, Aaron Paul, Oliver Platt, Molly Parker, Barbara Hershey. Directed by Alexandre Aja. (2016, 108 min).

Dedicated horror fans will probably recognize the name of director Alexandre Aja. A one-time member of the so-called 'Splat Pack', he's best known for the quasi-classic Haute Tension, the goopy-gory remake of The Hills Have Eyes and the boob n' blood bonanza, Piranha 3D. Since subtlety has never been part of Aja's vocabulary, those same horror fans might be surprised - and maybe disappointed - that The 9th Life of Louis Drax isn't really a horror film at all.

Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is a strange, somewhat creepy little kid who has survived more life-threatening accidents in nine years than most others would if they lived to be 100. The story begins with his most recent: During a birthday picnic with his separated parents, Natalie (Sarah Gordon) & Peter (Aaron Paul), he falls - or is pushed - off a cliff. To the shock of everyone, especially Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), Louis miraculously survives, but his body is so battered that he remains in a deep coma. Since Peter has disappeared, everyone suspects him, while Natalie finds comfort (and then some) in Pascal's company. While slowly suspecting not everything (including Natalie) is what it seems, Pascal becomes convinced Louis is actually trying to communicate with him.

"You saw Fifty Shades of Grey? Sorry."
The film is narrated by Louis from deep inside his subconscious, where he is speaking to a mysterious, slimy beast, recounting his accident prone life and the circumstances which lead to his current state. Through flashbacks, we learn of his experiences with Dr. Perez, a child psychologist, and the troubling circumstances surrounding his parents' separation. As a child, Louis is a somewhat unreliable narrator, and not always entirely likable. The film uses that to its advantage. Through his recollections, we're constantly questioning what's really going on with every character (including Louis himself).

"Time to trim those nose hairs, Dad."
The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a difficult film to summarize effectively, not only because of its sequences of surreal imagery, but the frequent shifts in tone and often ambiguous narrative structure. The film is dark - including the few comedic moments - but stops short of turning bleak. It's also part mystery, slowly putting its pieces together until we get a clear picture; perhaps too slowly on occasion, since we can anticipate a few of these plot twists well in advance. Still, it's an interesting journey and, like Aja's under-appreciated Mirrors, quite atmospheric and aesthetically arresting.

While no classic,The 9th Life of Louis Drax is an entertaining dark fantasy that never got a wide release in theaters and deserves to find an audience on home video. Though the film features some creepy, supernatural elements, this is unlike anything Alexandre Aja has directed before and well worth checking out.

FEATURETTE: "The Making of The 9th Life of Louis Drax"

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