Critics' Pick

The 9th Life of Louis Drax (R)

Suspense/Thriller 90 min. September 2, 2016
By Bilge Ebiri
Opening your film on the image of a child plummeting off a cliff, presumably to his death, is a fairly foolproof way of getting the audience's attention. And Alexandre Aja's hyper-stylized coming-of-age-movie-slash-fantasy-slash-psychological-thriller excels at grabbing you with a steady stream of provocative and ornate images. But to what end, I'm still not sure.

The falling child is Louis (Aiden Longworth), "the amazing, accident-prone boy." Louis doesn’t actually die. Instead, he lands in the ocean and winds up in a coma, with his distraught mother Natalie (Sarah Gadon) standing watch over him in the hospital, convinced that she can still communicate with the boy mentally. Coming to her aid is handsome Dr. Pascal (Jamie Dornan), a man with some revolutionary ideas: "I think some people don't want to wake up until they feel safe." Mom contends that the child's lout of a dad (Aaron Paul), an abusive boxer, actually pushed the boy -- and that he might come back to finish the job.

Based on Liz Jensen's best-selling novel, the film unfolds like a time-hopping psychotherapy session crossed with a fairy tale. We delve into the boy’s mind, a place of contempt, self-loathing and a child's notions of right and wrong. In visions, Louis speaks to a mysterious underwater figure who interrogates him with a voice not unlike Christian Bale's Batman voice.

Louis Drax walks a tightrope -- feeding us just enough information to make us suspect that not everything is as it seems, while using stylistic flourishes to mitigate the overall bleakness of the story. But don’t be surprised if you start to suspect that, for all the film's ornamentation, it might not be leading up to something revelatory.
Alexandre Aja Jamie Dornan, Sarah Gadon, Aaron Paul, Aiden Longworth, Oliver Platt, Molly Parker, Barbara Hershey Liz Jensen, Max Minghella Tim Bricknell, Shawn Williamson, Alexandre Aja, Max Minghella Summit Entertainment

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