The main character of our story is the eponymous Louis Drax (Aiden Longsworth), who is described as ‘accident prone’. Through his nine years of childhood, he has endured broken bones, animal attacks, numerous diseases, furniture fallen on him, electrocutions, and all manner of injuries minor and severe. On his ninth birthday, he suffers his worst accident of all- a tumble over a sea cliff which leaves him clinically dead for two hours before a (possibly miraculous) resuscitation. Afterwards, he’s left in a coma which he may never awake from, leaving his mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) despondent. His father (Aaron Paul) disappeared after the accident, causing the police to treat it as a potential murder. Louis is moved into the care of coma specialist Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), who is known for rather unconventional treatment methods. And all the while, Louis watches it all unfold from some sort of watery dream world which he shares with a seaweed and barnacle-encrusted monster.
What strikes me most about the movie is how it plays with several genres but doesn’t quite fit into any of them. At its core The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a mystery film, but it also contains significant aspects of the thriller genre, specifically reminding me a bit of David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Then on top of that the film adds some supernatural elements which wouldn’t feel out-of-place in an episode of The X-Files. The end result is an eccentric, quirky, but intriguing ‘who-dun-it’ that doesn’t neatly fit into a traditional category. Of course, this is not incredibly surprising since Aja’s last project, Horns, is a fantasy/comedy ‘who-dun-it’ not too unlike this most recent film.
The movie’s quirkiness extends to other areas as well, particularly the acting of Aiden Longsworth. Very fortunately, Aja cast a good child actor, and Longsworth is very adept at playing the cute, but definitely troubled, Louis. He nails a very particular style of speaking that stays consistent through the film, and which even becomes an important plot point. The acting from the adult cast members is good but not incredibly notable, though it is interesting to see Aaron Paul play a father figure (which I don’t think he’s done before). The film’s visual style is an interesting blend between realism and surrealism, with the normality of Louis’ home-town of San Francisco vividly contrasted by his fanciful (yet never over-the-top) dream world.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a very solid mystery film, which sadly seems to have been abandoned by its US distributer Summit Entertainment. Between the lackluster release date and the very small number of theatres actually showing the film, it very well may bomb at the box-office. My hope is that, like Horns, it will develop a cult following over time, but if you can I recommend seeing it in theatres. Just like its main character, it’s eccentric, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time.