As soon as I heard of Nine Days I wanted to watch it. It combines a stellar cast, Winston Duke, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, and Zazie Beetz with a completely intriguing premise. With such talent, I knew that it would be a good film but it went well beyond my expectations. The cast was exceptional and the story was a gift of insight and emotionally powerful. And while the film is billed as Science Fiction, it is so much more.
Nine Days, a supernatural drama written and directed by Edson Oda, stars Winston Duke as Will, an arbiter who lives in an isolated house at the edge of the desert. Will spends his days selecting candidate souls for the opportunity to be born. If they aren’t selected, he gives them a parting memory before their existence is erased. His only company is Kyo (Benedict Wong), a soul who refused to disappear and who’s assisted Will ever since. Will spends his days watching and taking notes of the souls he’s selected from television screens. His current favorite is Amanda, a violin prodigy who crashes into an overpass on the highway and dies. As Will deals with her death, candidates begin arriving to take the vacant place left by Amanda, a process that takes nine days. Will asks questions and scenarios for each candidate but one, in particular, challenges his process, Emma (Zazie Beetz). Others follow the process, like Kane (Bill Skarsgård), or demand acceptance like Alex (Tony Hale). Will must find a way to select the right candidate but will that help him find the answers to Amanda’s death? And even if he finds answers, will they be the ones he wants?
I myself hesitate to call this a simple supernatural drama. It is so much more than that. It is an exploration into life, into the nature of humanity. In questioning the candidates, Will questions whether it is better to be strong or emotional, to be a fighter or gentle. He claims there’s no one right way but when he was alive, he struggled with being too sensitive, too caring. Amanda has done the same. Now he has grown cynical and closed off, angry at himself. Emma challenges this answer. She wants him to see the gift that life provides, to find a way to find joy in every moment, beauty in the simplicity of life. The story that Edson Oda has written is not simple. It is a complex idea explored in an elegant and beautiful way, finding a way to capture all the beauty of being human. The depth of thought that he plumbs for this story is one element to why this film is so emotional and compelling. Every scene on Will’s screens gives the viewer insight into the small ways life is lived and the power of those simple moments.
The beauty of this film is the questioning of whether we should find joy in life or embrace darkness, the struggle. The multiple television screens display different lives, different moments of joy and pain. Which is right? It’s up to the viewer to decide. Emma declares that we should find joy, Kane believes that humanity is dark. While Will chooses which candidate to send on, the conclusion of the film suggests that Will changes his beliefs. And much of that debate is shown in the memories he provides for the failed candidates, in his gentleness, and in his struggle with Amanda’s death. And while the film doesn’t answer the question, it gives us insight into the answers.
The small details, the filmography is part of what makes the film beautiful. The memories that Will provides his candidates are part of those details. But we also see those details in what each candidate is provided as their tools, in how they answer questions, when they arrive at Will’s house, how they explore the house and whether they question him. Each detail provides keys to the debate, insight into life, and an exploration of human nature. The memories that each candidate wants at the end also provide subtle keys to the heart of the film. While Will is the arbiter, Emma and Kyo both question him, and it is as much his journey out of darkness as it is the story of which candidate he will select.
The performances shine. Each actor is extraordinary. Winston Duke is as emotional and powerful as Will. His performance adds to the evocative quality of the film and his journey is the heart of the film. Zazie Beetz is so incredible as Emma, adding beauty and joy to each scene she is in, her ability to convey passion adding emotional weight to the film. Benedict Wong is amazing, his portrayal as Kyo caring and warm. I love that we get to see Tony Hale in a serious performance, highlighting his range as an actor, and we see Bill Skarsgård in a non-horror role, again allowing us to see his talent and ability to convey deep emotion. Every actor does a brilliant job in this film.
I truly found nothing lacking in this film. If anything, I truly feel that it shines and I hope it wins awards. If you love films that explore what it means to be alive and being human, this film is a must-see. Not only does it have excellent performances from every actor, especially Winston Duke, but the writing is also evocative, emotional, and powerful, raising questions that you will still be thinking about days later. It is beautiful how the film ties together multiple scenes into a harmonious movie and the ending is breathtaking. The exploration of souls, humanity, and life makes this film so much more than science fiction, it is an emotional gift.
Rating: 5 out of 5 moments.
Will (Winston Duke) spends his days in a remote outpost watching the live Point of View (POV) on TV’s of people going about their lives, until one subject perishes, leaving a vacancy for a new life on earth. Soon, several candidates – unborn souls – arrive at Will’s to undergo tests determining their fitness, facing oblivion when they are deemed unsuitable. But Will soon faces his own existential challenge in the form of free-spirited Emma (Zazie Beetz), a candidate who is not like the others, forcing him to turn within and reckon with his own tumultuous past. Fueled by unexpected power, he discovers a bold new path forward in his own life. Making his feature-film debut after a series of highly acclaimed and award-winning short films and music videos, Japanese Brazilian director Edson Oda delivers a heartfelt and meditative vision of human souls in limbo, aching to be born against unimaginable odds, yet hindered by forces beyond their will. NINE DAYS opens exclusively in theaters on Friday, August 6, 2021.
ONE-LINER: A reclusive man conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born.