In his feature debut, Edson Oda crafts a story about life and death, one that examines human nature and reincarnation. It might seem like an exaggeration but Nine Days truly feels like it touches the soul with its story. Melding together art and philosophy with an earnest touch, Oda crafts a story that has the soul of an indie arthouse feature but with the gravitas of a blockbuster hit.

The story of Nine Days is not for the faint of heart. Winston Duke plays Will, a curious man living in an old house in the middle of a barren desert liminal space, is tasked with the difficult job of determining which souls have the opportunity to be born into the world. The handful of applicants he interviews come down to Bill Skarsgard, David Rysdahl, Arianna Ortiz, Tony Hale, and Zazie Beetz. They must undergo challenges and face rigorous tests in order to have the privilege to be born.

While the other candidates take on each of these questions and challenges with their own brand of gusto, Beetz’s Emma stands as an outlier. For the tired Will, who has been blunted by the burden of his job, Emma’s optimism and her disinterest in following the strict parameters of this test initially irritates Will. He takes this all very seriously and has dedicated his entire existence to this important task.

He is not simply there to deem the worthiness of a candidate, he’s there when they lose to recreate their last wish (with the help of Benedict Wong’s Kyo). These are moments when the film shines bright, seeing the magic of stagecraft being used within the narrative is both enchanting and haunting. Emma’s arrival throws the test off-balance and forces Will to reevaluate the rules that he’s had to live by and has him reconsidering what is valuable in a soul’s right to have a life.

Alongside the fantastic cinematography, production design, and scoring is the performances of the actors. Winston Duke, known by the mainstream as M’Baku from Black Panther is a far cry from the boisterous Jabari Tribe leader in this. Instead, we can spot his dramatic background here as he imbues gravitas and melancholy into Will, able to be both statuesque while also being subdued. On the flip side of the coin is Zazie Beetz’s Emma. Another comic book movie star, we’ll know Beetz primarily from her role as the snarky and wild Domino in Deadpool 2. But here, Beetz is sunny and curious, genuine to a fault without coming off as pretentious or aloof.  Duke and Beetz play off of each other tremendously well and are further supported by Wong, Skarsgard, and even Tony Hale.

It’s difficult to explore all of the depths that Nine Days hits without rewatching and spending time percolating on the philosophies presented. I found myself excited to discuss the film and its messages with fellow audience members, eager to discuss the plot as well as the visual feast presented by Oda. Nine Days sets itself apart from fantasy films. There is no grand world-building, no villain waiting in the shadows, no singular hero. But it is fantastical none-the-less and leaves me hungry for more from Oda.

Director: Edson Oda
Company: Mandalay Pictures
Category: U.S. Dramatic Competition
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Rating: ★★★★½☆

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