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Review: 'Nine Days'

Occasionally a film comes along that rises above the clutter and commonality of most mainstream movies these days. Instead of superheroes and special effects, it simply serves up a really interesting story with a premise that you might ponder long after you’ve left the theater or grabbed the remote control.

Nine Days is one of those movies.

It’s something more along the lines of Waiting for Godot, in the world of theater. A stripped down, simplified story with minimal characters and a lot to think about.

In this case, it’s the story of Will (Winston Duke), a man living in an isolated beach house that, while quaint and charming, might not actually be real. He spends his days watching a bank of outdated television monitors in his living room.

We discover that what he’s watching are essentially livestreamed POV video feeds of about a dozen different lives. He sits and he watches with all-consuming interest. Day and night.

Occasionally, Will has visitors. They include his friend and confidant Kyo (Benedict Wong) as well as a handful of others who stop by. They’re not people, per se. We learn that they are unborn souls who want to have the opportunity to live a life as a human being.

Not everyone gets the chance. In order to be accepted and approved, they must each undergo a battery of psychological tests and interviews that take nine days to complete.

The competition is tight. The handful of souls are vying for just one opening which each one desperately wants.

The strange exception is a beautiful young woman Emma (Zazie Beetz) who arrives late and immediately gains the ire of her interviewer with her confounding answers and responses to the questions and demands. She frustrates Will but her mysteriousness and unconventionality gain his interest.

He can’t figure her out. As their relationship begins to unfold, she begins to turn the tables and challenge Will, chipping away at his authority and confidence.

Nine Days is a character-driven, plot-driven movie. It’s intense.

But more than that, its movie that explores some uncharted territory. While there are movies about life and what may come after life, there are precious few that ponder what or who we were before we were born. A recent exception might be the Disney animated feature Soul (2020).

But this isn’t a Disney film, it’s a movie that makes us wonder about the nature of our existence and what, if anything, we were before we came into this world. At the very least, it’s a reminder that our brief lives might be a just a flash amid the void of timeless eternity that stretches both after and before our moment of consciousness.

Pushing the spiritual and philosophical nature of Nine Days aside for a moment, the premise makes for some riveting drama. It’s a story that could easily be adapted into a powerful stage play, due to the exceptional writing.

In the story, the barrage of probing, bewildering questions and dilemmas amounts to a succession of panic-inducing Sophie’s Choice (1982)-type decisions.

Nine Days was written and directed by Japanese Brazilian director Edson Oda, making his feature film debut here following a series of acclaimed, award-winning short films. It’s an impressive debut.

He creates an abstract world full of abstract characters caught up in drama of the highest order—the chance to have a life. The stakes couldn’t be greater.

As it turns out, they each have just one chance at one opportunity. If they don’t make the cut, they will cease to exit altogether. Even this part of the story is beautifully poignant and unforgettable.

Nine Days isn’t your average movie. It dares to go where many movies simply won’t or can’t.

It’s a movie of thoughts, feelings and ideas, all worth exploring and considering. It’s a refreshing take on the human experience and life itself.

The cast is wonderful. The performances are exceptional. The direction is confidently controlled. The technical credits are first rate.

Nine Days harkens back to some of those European “art films” that I used to watch when I was in college in the late Sixties and early Seventies. I’m speaking of the work of Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, and Godard, just to name a few.

Those movies that bent the rules, strayed off the beaten path and challenged your mind. I miss seeing movies like that. Besides making us feel, movies should occasionally make us think.

Nine Days asks us to ponder the question of life before life. Who were we before we were born? And what did it take for us to get here?

Edson Oda’s debut feature film Nine Days is a brilliant movie for the mind, a fantasy touching upon life and what might have preceded life, a thought-provoking backstory to our human existence.


Nine Days can be seen in theaters.

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