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The 9th Life of Louis Drax (2016)

Lionsgate
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/7/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/25/2017

As someone who is constantly talking about horror movies, people are surprised to learn that I saw Babe (yes, the pig movie) in the theater three times or that I've patterned my life after Fletch. The point is that we can be very diverse in the movies that we like. The same should be true for filmmakers, but it's not as easy for them, especially when they get pigeonholed into a certain genre or type of movie. French-born Director Alexandre Aja has made a career of making gory horror movies, most of which were remakes (Piranha 3D, The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors) (To his credit, The Hills Have Eyes it too brutal to be ignored.) Given this, he seems like the last choice to make a mystery with fantasy elements. However, someone decided to give him a shot with The 9th Life of Louis Drax, and that was a good decision.

Louis Drax (Aiden Longworth) is a boy who has had an odd life, as he's had a series of very serious accidents. On his 9th birthday, he goes on a picnic with his estranged parents, Natalie (Sarah Gadon) and Peter (Aaron Paul), which ends with Louis falling from a cliff into the ocean and Peter disappearing. Louis is rushed to the hospital, where he lapses into a coma. Specialist Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan) is brought in to care for Louis and is immediately caught up in the boy's mysterious life, while he feels himself drawn to Natalie. Through flashbacks, we learn more about Louis, most importantly that he was seeing psychologist Dr. Perez (Oliver Platt), who was delving into Louis' homelife. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place, Louis is adrift in a fantasy world where he is lead by a monster.

If I had started watching The 9th Life of Louis Drax with no prior knowledge of the film, I would have guessed that it was directed by Tim Burton or one of his disciples. The movie really pushes the primary colors and despite the dark content of the film, the picture is usually very bright and awash with colors. There is also a definite dream-like quality here, as many shots are presented with notably soft-focus, giving things a somewhat hazy look. Another Burtonesque piece lies in Natalie's wardrobe, as she dresses as if its the 1950s. We also have the film's content, which mixes a bit of whimsy with some dark themes.

So, does Aja simply rip-off Burton? No. If anything, in his films, Aja has proven that he doesn't shy away from being mean-spirited. (Have you seen The Hills Have Eyes?) He doesn't go that far here, but this movie does focus on serious themes such as child abuse, infidelity, and medical ethics. The film's look may seem playful and light, but this is definitely a drama at heart, and Aja does a good job tackling the film's darker heart.

These things add up to a film which may not look original at first, but eventually reveals themselves to be something different. Based on a novel by Liz Jensen, and with a screenplay by actor Max Minghella, The 9th Life of Louis Drax is a very clever blending of genres. At its heart, the movie is a mystery, as the story jumps back and forth in time to show us what Louis' life was like, and more importantly, what happened on that day when he fell from the cliff. There's also the question of Peter's whereabouts following the incident. This leads to an exploration of life in the Drax household, and we learn that the real mystery lies in the relationship between Natalie, Peter, and Louis, and the strained family dynamics. Through the flashbacks, the story slowly unfolds what lead the Drax's to that cliffside picnic and how the truth can be distorted. In the present, we see how Dr. Pascal falls under Natalie's spell. While this is all grounded squarely in reality, as the film progresses, a fantastic side is revealed.

The result is a very satisfying and interesting film which must be applauded for taking some chance. The mixture of genres may not seem original, but the way in which the various layers unfold is definitely engaging. The most daring angle comes with Louis himself. This is not the typical precocious kid character. He is bratty and unlikable at times, and I admire that the movie didn't make him perfect. The movie also takes some chances with the story in the third act. Admittedly, it may lose some viewers here, but again, this goes in some unexpected directions and keeps things fresh. And stick with the sequences with the monster, as they have a big payoff. This movie apparently played in theaters somewhere, but it definitely deserves more exposure. This the best film that I've seen in 2017 thus far.

The 9th Life of Louis Drax probably doesn't represent realistic coma treatment on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look excellent and really jump off of the screen. The image is never overly dark or bright. As noted above, the picture gets notably soft at times, but that was a stylistic choice and has nothing to do with the transfer. The depth is notable and the not hazy scenes have a great crispness. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The movie offers a variety of soundscapes. Louis' visits from the monster offer some interesting surround sound and stereo effects. The incident at the cliff and the inevitable rescue deliver notable subwoofer effects. The score sounds fine and the stereo effects highlight sounds coming from off-screen.

The lone extra on The 9th Life of Louis Drax Blu-ray Disc is a "Making of Featurette", which is simply a 3-minute EPK that offers quick comments from Max Minghella, Aja, Novelist Liz Jensen, and the cast, along with clips from the film.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long