The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)

  • Time: 108 min
  • Genre: Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Alexandre Aja
  • Cast: Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul


The story begins on Louis Drax’s 9th birthday, when a lifetime of curious mishaps culminates in the boy’s near-fatal fall. Desperate to reveal the strange circumstances behind the young boy’s accident and dark coincidences that have plagued his entire life, Dr. Allan Pascal (Dornan) is drawn into a thrilling mystery that explores the nature of the sixth sense, testing the boundaries of fantasy and reality.

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  • A film of disparate elements that only ever coalesces in its last half hour, The 9th Life of Louis Drax finds horror specialist Alexandre Aja swapping his characteristic gore for grave whimsicality.

    Adapted by Max Minghella from Liz Jensen’s 2004 novel, the story centers around the mysterious, accident-prone Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth). Accident-prone may be an understatement since, as the title suggests, the nine-year-old boy has had more than his share of near-death experiences – he’s had a chandelier fall on him when he was a baby, almost been electrocuted, been stung by both spiders and bees, and experienced practically every form of food poisoning, and yet he’s lived to die another day. His latest incident – falling off a cliff into icy waters, being pronounced dead only to come back to life and fall into a coma – may be more deliberate than accidental.

    It seems young Louis and his parents – his pristinely beautiful and eternally concerned mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) and somewhat hotheaded stepdad Peter (Aaron Paul) – were having a lovely birthday picnic when an inevitable argument between his mother and father, resulting in Peter pushing Louis off the cliff and going on the lam. Whilst investigating detective Dalton (Molly Parker) attempts to unravel the crime and ensure that Louis and Natalie are protected should Peter reappear, Louis is tended to by pediatric coma specialist Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), who believes in supernatural phenomena and is of the mindset that “some people don’t want to wake up until they feel safe.”

    The married Pascal soon finds himself drawn to the fragile and wounded Natalie in the film’s most predictable and yet most intriguing strand. There’s many a moment when Pascal and Natalie’s interactions recall the psycho-romantic dread of Vertigo, and Natalie herself comes into clearer focus as a femme fatale. Gadon, often lit in an otherworldly glow, is spellbinding as the damaged beauty whose strongest connection is to her unfortunate son. It’s a good thing too, since both Dornan and Paul don’t do very much with their albeit thinly written roles. Oliver Platt, as Louis’ psychologist who suspects the boy may be self-harming for attention, is as welcome as ever.

    Aja, cinematographer Maxime Alexandre, and the production team do a fine job in blurring the line between reality and fantasy. The bigger problem though lies in the film’s more fantastical elements, such as the unconscious Louis communicating with a sludgy sea monster, which are meant to parallel and shed light on what is happening in the real world. It’s a shame that most of the film is all over the place since those last 30 minutes are more engaging than anything else that precedes it.

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