Although Edson Oda’s Nine Days features a good concept about existentialism and the decisions we make in life, the final product isn’t as good as the concepts it tackles and ends up leaving a pretentious aftertaste.
After a couple of acclaimed short films and commercials, Edson Oda is here with his feature-length debut, Nine Days, which is an interesting one. It is an indie drama with a fantasy element dealing with life’s so-called gut-punches. Oda dives into the concepts of existence, decisions forthcoming to regrets, and the questioning of it all, accompanied by a group of rising stars in Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard, and Benedict Wong. It feels like a success looking from afar as it has all the right pieces, but unfortunately, it makes its way into the kitschy side rather than a thought-provoking one.
The film centres around a man, Will (Winston Duke), interviewing souls for a chance at life on Earth from a desert safehouse. The interview process has some steps to it as you need a proposition as to why you want to have the opportunity at living; afterwards, you have nine days of different exercises and tests that you must pass to reach the next step. The new souls who are to be interviewed are Mike (David Rysdahl), Maria (Arianna Ortiz), Kane (Bill Skarsgard), Alexander (Tony Hale), and Emma (Zazie Beetz).
Each of the tests is different, and one isn’t any more difficult than the other. Will could give them a dilemma and ask what they would do in that type of situation. On other occasions, he asks arbitrary questions rather than rational stimulating ones. In one of the tests, Emma responds with counter-questions which then beats the purpose of Will’s tests. If the script goes down that route, doesn’t that defeat the film’s narrative or premise? We know that reaction is to cause a “dramatic” or impactful effect, yet it doesn’t. It thinks it is very profound and purposeful when it is anything but that.
Films like these are meant to beat up your soul emotionally and leave you with hard questions. Not in the way of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), which crushes your entire day for the worst, even though the movie is good, but they’re supposed to leave you thinking about the ideas afterwards. It isn’t fair to compare this one with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) either, but that film dwells on its concepts creatively, emotionally, and it doesn’t leave your mind.
When you finish this, you have a couple of “why” questions popping into your head. Why didn’t this gel for me? Why didn’t it make me feel anything? It’s because many films have done it better and more extensively. It has some small bright spots that keep it from not falling apart completely, like the duo of excellent performances by Duke and Wong, some well-shot, beautiful sequences, and the way it builds its fantasy element. The problem is that it doesn’t do enough to illustrate a path into the human condition.
Oda starts greatly, making us pursue what’s coming with sheer interest and open arms. When the story settles to what it wants to say, the audience might lose their engrossment. It doesn’t have much to say about the pains of existing and the notion of “enjoy the life you are given”. It is like Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York (2008), where something looks nice on paper but is befuddled and pretentious in execution, beating its purpose and bright ideas. What seemed like a good abstraction gets lost within self-importance.
It isn’t like Lowery’s A Ghost Story (2017), which brilliantly and creatively yells, “What do I do now after I’m done?” or most recently, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2021), where a man imagines a world because he cannot bear his own. There are ways to execute creative ideas without getting on the magisterial side of things. Nine Days has many aspects that you could “praise” due to its vision around its convictions, and there is a better film somewhere in there. Unfortunately, it is too pompous for its own good, and your mood sways from interest to disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Director Edson Oda sites that the films that influenced this project include After Life (1998) by Hirokazu Koreeda and The Tree of Life (2011) by Terrence Malick.