The 9th Life of Louis Drax

Review by Poppy Doran @poppydoran

Directed by

Alexandre Aja

Starring

Aiden Longworth Jamie Dornan Sarah Gadon

Anticipation.

A star-studded cast takes on a magical tale.

Enjoyment.

A twisted plot and hearty performances.

In Retrospect.

Confusing narrative and tonal shifts suggest Aja is meant for horror only.

The director of Horns returns with an equally jarring genre mash-up movie based on a bestselling fantasy novel.

Actor Jamie Dornan landed on our laps in his role as a buff millionaire-cum-sadomasochist in Fifty Shades of Grey. In Alexandre Aja’s The 9th Life of Louis Drax, he is on safer ground as a TED-talking neurologist named Dr Pascal. Aiden Longworth co-stars as the luckless title character who suffers a near-fatal fall which opens the portal to a personal purgatory where his family’s secrets are readily revealed.

Switching back and forth between a film noir-like (attempted) murder mystery and the fantasy world located in Louis’ imagination, the film is more of a boundary-testing project for the director. Adapted from a 2004 bestseller from Liz Jensen, it misses as often as it hits the mark. It’s a supernatural psychological tale from a director whose back catalogue consists almost entirely of horror. Aja desperately battles with the film’s necessary tonal shifts, but more often than not, he comes a-cropper.

Featuring overlapping time zones and clashing visual styles, the film gives little impression as to whether its maker aims to unsettle, or if he is just drowning in his own experiment. An elaborate pre-title sequence introduces the Drax family in all their mid-century Europhile fashion, but promises of hamster dynasties and red checked picnic blankets are reneged as the steely-grey world of Pascal takes hold. The breaking open of this self-contained universe, beginning with the accident, marks the first of many twists pulled straight from Aja’s jump scare comfort zone.

Louis recollects René Magritte’s painted memories (going to the aquarium, confetti laden weddings, visiting his child psychologist), and tries too hard to represent his life as a picture-perfect postcard – the plot itself is much darker. But maybe that’s the point? Regardless, Aja’s overloading of ideas delivers a film that’s an unfortunate hybrid of Nanny McPhee and Psycho.

Based on the debut screenplay from Max Minghella, shelved by his late Academy Award-winning father Anthony, it’s most charming moments are found in off-guard, off-colour humour: cue Louis excitedly questioning whether he’s a “typical disturbed child”. Still, such whimsical elements are dulled by a blurring of two emerging dystopias, especially as an unsuspecting manipulator is pushed to the fore. It sells charm and magic but serves something more grisly. If it wasn’t for Aaron Paul’s genuinely affecting performance as a sensitive patriarch, this peculiar film would be lost in a mire of drab confusion.

Published 2 Sep 2016

Tags: Aaron Paul Alexandre Aja Jamie Dornan Sarah Gadon

Anticipation.

A star-studded cast takes on a magical tale.

Enjoyment.

A twisted plot and hearty performances.

In Retrospect.

Confusing narrative and tonal shifts suggest Aja is meant for horror only.

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