“Nine Days” is a rarity these days: a truly “original” movie. Japanese/Brazilian writer/director Edson Oda has created a two-hour fantasy drama that’s not based on a book, comic book, TV series or true events. Nor is it an extension of a franchise. This is a standalone, one-of-a-kind story that oozes with ambition and definitely provides impact.
Not everything works. But I give the first-time feature film director a massive amount of credit for crafting a movie with legitimate thought and depth.
The main character is Will (Winston Duke from “Black Panther” and “Us”). His job is to watch a specific group of human beings — 24/7 — on old TV sets arranged on a wall in his house. He carefully studies their behaviors, making notes and keeping files. When one of his people dies, Will is faced with the major responsibility of deciding which unborn soul should take her place as a human on Earth. He interviews several candidates and, over the course of nine days, trying to determine which of them has what it takes to survive and thrive as a human.
Each member of the limbo group has her/his unique characteristic. Tony Hale plays Alexander (his mostly comedic presence takes you out of the moment early on). Bill Skarsgard (stripped away of his Pennywise the Clown makeup) is streetwise Kane, while “Joker”’s Zazie Beetz, as Emma is a unique free spirit, who challenges Will to rethink his selection criteria. Arianna Ortiz delivers a standout performance as the overwhelmed Maria.
Benedict Wong, who plays Will’s colleague Kyo, earned an Independent Spirit Awards nomination for his performance earlier this year. (The film still qualified even though it wasn’t released yet.) Wong is fine, but his character doesn’t break through among the ensemble. It’s Duke who gives the strongest performance. Will’s emotional journey is a powerful one and Duke’s sells his burden of playing God.
Oda’s vision is distinct. The majority of the story takes place inside Will’s house. The look is compelling, as is the way contestants are “eliminated”. It’s not a dramatic vote-off and montage of your journey a la “American Idol”, but a poetic, moving goodbye. Oda asks us to consider how we should judge others and if there’s still a chance for peace and love in this chaotic, largely ugly world.
This film is proof that stories like this CAN still be told on screen, and (thanks to a Sundance debut and Sony Classics distribution) hopefully find an appreciative audience. If you’re in the mood for a challenging movie experience, I encourage you see it. It’ll only take part of one day, but I guarantee you’ll remember all “Nine Days”.
LCJ GRADE: B
Running Time: 124 min.