Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Nine Days - Review

 Every once in a while, a film comes along that feels impossible to write about. Not in ways that would hamper attempts to praise its creative risks or complex storytelling, but capturing the beautiful experience that is Nine Days with just around a few hundred words unfeasible. It’s a film that scratches a creative itch, an original, moving story that explores life, death, and the existentialism that comes along with it.

A man, Will (Winston Duke), is an arbiter who judges souls before they are selected for life on earth. He resides in an isolated house in the middle of a desert, interviewing candidate souls for the opportunity to be born; if they are not selected, Will gives them a parting memory before their existence is erased. 

The story, while relatively simple on the screen and page, is much grander in scope than its director and writer plays into. Edson Oda, making his directorial debut here, never spoon feeds the audience, relying on the context of the events to piece together what exactly goes on in this isolated desert home. The process takes nine days (hence the title for those paying attention), and throughout those days, each individual is evaluated by two men, each wondering what makes them qualified for such an important position. 

Those two men are Winston Duke and Benedict Wong. Duke’s character, Will, actually walked on Earth at one point, while Wong’s Ayo serves as more of an advisory role in the selection process. They view the whole setup in a vastly different way, and that dichotomy between the actual human experience and a theoretical one takes center stage. The rest of the cast is filled out with stellar performances, with the true standout being Zazie Beetz as Emma, who possesses an inquisitive nature unlike the other candidates that sends Will into a spiral that only makes his other concerns more prominent. 

As the candidates slowly dwindle, Oda begins to dig deeper into the themes. We’re all lost at some point, to some degree, and eventually, we all find our own way back. For Will, that journey starts and ends with Emma, who reminds him of his humanity, forcing him to live again and wonder about things he was too afraid to think about. Wrap all of this in a gorgeous sense of melancholy and joy intertwined, and the Edson Oda has crafted leaps off the screen as one of the most confident debuts in recent memory.

Nine Days is a multi-layered, metaphorical journey through the idea of existence. Oda has announced himself as a director with a very distinct vision and voice, crafting one of the most moving and emotional experiences of 2021 so far. Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz get to flex their acting muscles, showing off just how talented they both are, and anchoring this otherworldly story. By avoiding the easy out of exposition and quick answers, Oda allows the film to force the viewer to reckon with life itself, and how we all choose to live it.

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