(kr) wrote: Despite a known cast, this Alexandre Aja film has unfortunately entered the cinemas this weekend without even making a whimper, probably due to its dud performance at the U.S box office (earning just $275,506). Also may because it has a strange title, or the misleading Sci-Fi or Fantasy feel of the poster, or the synopsis pointing towards a more psychological thriller. This film is surely an odd duck that's actually fairly original and has an intriguing mystery at its center. Though, the tone of the film is all over the place, which can make it feel a little uneven, but at the same time I felt it kind of worked. Director Alexandre Aja, who is mostly known for his 2003 French thriller High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes remake and the recent under rated Daniel Radcliffe vehicle Horns, has made sure things together without no contrivances. As layers are peeled away the truth is revealed to be very different from what the first appearances were. In my opinion, tonally the film felt like a pitch-black psychological drama disguised as a romantic melodrama and shot like a family-friendly fantasy film with little pinches of horror. Based on the novel by author Liz Jensen, the story follows Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth), a calamity-prone child who ominously narrates at the outset that it mistake he was born. He is protected by a beautiful young mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon). While in a coma, he tells of his fantastical life and adventures, including the relationships with his estranged father Peter (Aaron Paul) and his quirky psychologist, Dr. Perez (Oliver Platt). Magical realism suffused with mystery and suspense is perhaps the most exact way to describe the genre. Louis somehow survives absurd misfortune, and he befriends a mollusk-like man while in a coma. At the same time, the cops are hot on the trail of his missing father, whom they suspect to have pushed Louis off a cliff during a family picnic gone awry, sending him into a deep slumber. Rounding it all out is the married child specialist, Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan), who predictably becomes enamored with Louis' equally attractive and doting mother. Dr. Pascal is an expert in child comas, and he and Natalie are desperately trying to wake Louis by tapping into his subconscious. The story is told in two parts, one the dreamy coma-world of Louis, and the other the real world of Dr. Pascal as he tries to unwind what really happened that day on the cliffs. The film opens with a montage of Louis' life told from a black comedy angle. Obviously what happens to him isn't exactly nice, but it's played for laughs. If you don't like black comedy, this opening sequence will turn you off immediately. This soon gives way to melancholy when the tragedy unfolds, which is about as much of a stark contrast as you can get. There's also some freakier moments revolving around the creature, a typically romantic tone between Pascal and Natalie, and in its penultimate moments it shifts more into thriller territory. However, I never felt this was jarring at all. Every shift in tone suited the scenes perfectly, and evolved organically from one to the other. But the film quickly becomes something darker, more sinister and more surreal as it navigates issues of potential murder, domestic abuse, child abuse, collapsing marriages and the shadow world between life and death. There's even a hint of horror. It's paced well for 108mins and is quite surreal having a dreamy glow around certain parts which, although unrelated reminded me of The Butterfly Effect. The mystery deepens as the story goes on but unfortunately becomes very predictable. The flick does wildly fluctuate in tone throughout its run-time, a flaw which does lend it some unpredictability and therefore can sometimes work to its advantage. One moment it is light and comedic, the next it is dark and gloomy; it is at times a comedy, a quirky indie-film, a family drama, a surrealist fantasy, a mystery 'whodunit', a more traditional horror and a psychological thriller. I found this amalgamation of genres to be intriguing, as I was never quite sure where the story was going to go. I also mostly appreciated the tonal shifts which, aside from sometimes feeling clumsy and out-of-place, made for a subversive yet cohesive piece that was much more unique than it may first have seemed. What doesn't work to the film's advantage however, is its constant changes in perspective. These were often jarring and felt undisciplined; it is hard to determine who the lead protagonist is, Louis Drax or Doctor Pascal. The fact that the story flipped between their two perspectives is fine, but the execution is fumbling and chaotic at best - the two aren't split equally, and thus it begins to seem out-of-place when the swap happens. In the same vein, some of the surreal elements bleed a little too closely into the portrayed reality - it is sometimes unclear what is fantastical and what is real. This isn't a huge issue, and it often works to the flick's advantage, but can feel inconsistent in its portrayal and almost 'cheats' the audience at points. The problem is that the emotional weight that perhaps should have existed in such kind of a film. Like psychological thrillers, this film is quick to throw around phrases about the "brain" and the "soul." "All of us, no matter how damaged, can make connections," the child narrator at some point circuitously proclaims. The characters make use of their own invented language-they speak of "the right of disposal" as justifying Louis' bizarre cruelty to his hamsters. What's missing is that deep emotional connection that you form with characters when you spend the several hours necessary to get through a multilayered film. Remnants of director Alexandre Aja's horror-film past appear in startling flashes, like the sight of a child's pale, lifeless body on a metal slab under sickly florescent light. These would be less jarring were the rest of the film not shot in a warm, golden light that gives the back of everyone's head an angelic glow. Particularly in scenes with his psychiatrist, young star Aiden Longworth delivers dialogue laced with a precocious cynicism that's completely missing from the cloying whimsy of his frequent voice-over narration. In other words, this film can't decide how it wants to look or what it wants to say. You could even call the jumble of styles and tones "quirky," were you so inclined. The big twist isn't so much of a twist as it is a slow evolution over the course of the film. It's not just signposted, it's actively developed as we go along and learn more and more about the characters and their own stories. The way this all comes to light can be a little hard to swallow, and doesn't take the time to explain itself, namely telepathy and the ability to talk to the dead. As a director with such a penchant for the grizzly and off-kilter, Alexandre Aja became a tad too embedded in synthetic studio horror to mature into a visionary film-maker. His most recent offering: 2013's Horns was intriguingly blemished yet, in context, makes his latest feature all the more remarkable. This film is unlike anything director Aja has ever done before (at least from what I have seen), and most other mainstream/ genre films for that matter. The score was brilliant but maybe too enchanting for this film, giving it a fantasy style feel, but I think that was what the composer was going for, who is indie rock musician, Patrick Watson. His end credit track 'Man under the Sea' is quite enlightening for the film. The performances are all good, though Jamie Dornan's character can sometimes be quite boring and is played very by-the-numbers. Dornan in particular seems a bit bland in most of his appearances, but I'm not sure whether that's down to him or what he was given to work with. It wasn't too much of a distraction either way. Aiden Longworth and Sarah Gadon do really well in their major roles, without particularly breaking any new ground. However the real stars are some of the more supporting actors. It was good to see Oliver Platt even if playing a slightly typical role for him, a psychiatrist who has background knowledge of the boy. And of course Aaron Paul does what he does best. The chemistry he shares with Longworth goes a long way to developing their father-son relationship and leads to one of the film's most heartbreaking scenes. Also, even if for a small part, Barbara Hershey as the boy's Grandmother but maybe this film was lacking a larger star and I feel this film will go unnoticed purely because of that. On the whole, 'The 9th Life of Louis Drax' is a subversive & emotionally-powerful film which despite suffering from occasional tonal and structural issues is an entertaining watch.
(ag) wrote: It is probably trite for me to call this a cross between "Kids" and "Valley Girl" but somehow that's what kept coming to mind (particularly after I stumbled across the latter film on cable TV in the US last year and was rather dumbstruck by it). Of course, recalling Altman's "The Player", maybe this really could have been "the pitch" that got the film sold/made. Or more realistically it was James Franco's doing, because the script is drawn from some of his short stories (somehow I shudder to think of them), he plays a bit part (as a soccer coach on the make for his high school girl players), and he also served as executive producer. Director Gia Coppola is, yes, Francis's grand-daughter but much like her aunt Sofia, she does seem to have inherited some talent (or at least learned from the family traditions). The film follows a handful of teens as they fill up their bored lives with parties and emotional problems -- so much so that I worried about their self-esteem for most of the movie. Much of their feelings remain implied rather than shown, however. And the languorousness of things (including the stylish cinematography) is only occasionally punctuated by abrupt reckless behaviour, creating a sort of tension that, instead of leading to some sort of screenwriting arc, ultimately dissipated leaving me, the viewer, to wonder what the point of this all was.