Film Review: Nine Days
Director: Edson Oda
Juniper Pictures and The Space Program
In Theaters 08.06
One of the reasons I love movies is the way they allow one to experience new things and go to new places. A really great movie makes me feel a bit like I’ve stepped into a new life journey for two hours. Nine Days, the brilliant debut feature-length from writer-director Edson Oda, takes that to a whole new level.
In Nine Days, Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us, Spenser: Confidential) plays Will, an arbiter who interviews souls who are candidates to fill a position as a living person on earth. He does so from an isolated house in the middle of a barren desert, interviewing the each soul as if they were applying for a job and narrowing it down to the top candidates for the position. Will spends his days watching and taking notes on a multitude of television screens, each displaying the life of a different individual that Will has previously selected.
His favorite is Amanda, a 28-year-old violin prodigy. However, on her way to a large concierto, Amanda drives too fast on the highway and crashes into an overpass, killing her. As Will tries to process her death, candidates arrive for the nine-day process of selecting a soul to fill the vacancy, including Emma (Zazie Beetz, Deadpool 2, High Flying Bird, Joker), a curious and empathic soul whose tenderness reminds Will of someone he once knew.
Nine Days premiered to rave reviews at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, but has taken a long time to get a theatrical release for obvious reasons. But if there is any pre-pandemic movie out there that has been well worth the wait, it’s this one. We’ve seen some impressive feature debuts in the past couple of years, but Nine Days is that rare case when a filmmaker forges a legitimate masterpiece for their first film.
Nine Days leaves Oda in the position where, on the one hand, whatever they do next will be highly anticipated, but on the other, it will be awfully difficult to ever step out of their own shadow and make a film that tops it. It’s smart, funny, existential yet grounded in harsh reality at the same time and, above all, emotionally charged, deeply moving. Nine Days is everything that art should be.
Duke is unforgettable, and his tortured performance will stand not only as one of the best of the year, but a career-defining one at that. But Beetz is just as good, and the two of them make for a character dynamic with a profound connection that transcends conventions by so far that there’s really no available comparison. Benedict Wong (Doctor Strange) is another standout as Kyo, Will’s only companion, a soul who has never lived but won’t disappear.
Bill Skarsgård (It, The Devil All The Time) and Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Veep), who are interviewing for the same position as Emma, play wonderfully against type. The score by Antônio Pinto (Joe Bell) is gorgeous, and both cinematographer Wyatt Garfield and especially editors Michael Taylor and Jeff Bettencourt do Oscar-worthy work. The less-is-more design, which includes Will using VHS tapes of the candidates he views, is so much more interesting and tangible than what a sterile, heavenly white or fantasy setting would have been, and it makes the film all the more poignant.
Nine Days is profound in ways that I really wasn’t expecting. It’s a film about existence, life, pain, humanity and the meaning of life that’s framed through the premise of placing souls into bodies, but works equally well for religious and nonreligious audiences alike. It’s a towering achievement that should be experienced by anyone who loves art and storytelling and who appreciates what it means to be a sensitive soul. –Patrick Gibbs