Another film adaptation of a novel will hit select theaters — Tower City, Crocker Park, Richmond Town Square — on Friday, though one suspects it'll spend the duration of a short run in search of an audience. The 9th Life of Louis Drax, directed by French horror guru Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) pits a pediatric coma psychologist (50 Shades of Gray's Jamie Dornan) against the comatose mind of a 9-year-old who, via voiceover, tells us that he's had a complicated history with accidents.
To its credit, the script (penned by Max Minghella) deals competently with a convolved narrative structure: There's an inciting event, where Louis falls from a cliff and nearly dies; there are flashbacks to Louis' sessions with a jolly therapist (Oliver Platt, in the film's best performance); there's the unfolding mystery of Drax family violence and increasing uncertainty about Louis' parents (Aaron Paul and Sarah Gadon). Topping it all off, there are flights of fancy deep within Louis' mind where, among other things, his unconsciousness is haunted by a grotesque bipedal sea creature that scans like an early draft of a Guillermo del Toro monster.
Dealt with much less competently are the film's look and feel. You may be drawn in by the story's quirk and pace — it moves well — and yet, Louis Drax has the aura of a medical soap opera, a comparison that turns out to be pretty evocative given that Jamie Dornan's acting chops are the stuff of daytime TV. Much of the action transpires in a lodge-like pediatric coma ward where Dr. Pascal and Mrs. Natalie Drax begin to hit it off, to the professional consternation of Pascal's medical colleagues. In the ward's adjacent garden, the sun is somehow always too sunny. In Louis' mind, the dreams are weirdly too ... dreamy.
This might have been director Aja's attempt at lighter fare. It's a twisted take on a family thriller, sure, but measurably less horrific than his bloody efforts in the early '00s. And yet, Louis Drax is rated R. A couple of disturbing images and a handful of non-essential F-bombs could have been easily extracted to preserve a PG-13 rating. As it stands, it's a thriller without many thrills, a decent mystery masquerading as a child-centered fanciful drama that, with all due respect, you aren't likely to fancy. —Sam Allard