As this Sundance’s biggest surprise, Nine Days originally fascinated me due to its incredibly unique premise; unborn candidates arrive at a pre-life wasteland to be interviewed throughout a nine-day process in hopes of being selected to be born into the real world… wild.
The film follows Winston Duke as Will, a spiritual entity of sorts, tasked with monitoring the lives of candidates he has previously chosen to be born. He meticulously watches and records their activity through a wall of vintage televisions, keeping archives for each one in handwritten notes and VHS tapes. When one of Will’s screens tragically go blank, a new series of prospective candidates present themselves to undergo the nine-day selection procedure.
“Are dreams worth pursuing?” “How do you deal with heartbreak? With pain?” Questions asked throughout the film’s brilliant screenplay, both explicitly through dialogue and implied through glimpses into the lives on display in Will’s living room. These questions are adorned and accompanied by other hints of humor, sadness, drama, inspiration and artfulness. What’s been most impressive to me is how, for such a foreign, unique, and otherworldly premise, Nine Days feels so human and universally relatable; essentially an outsider’s perspective of the human experience, of what it means to be alive.
Nine Days is not only one of the absolute best films from this year’s Sundance, but also one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had. As the credits rolled, electricity filled the room, the film and its director, Edson Oda, both received standing ovations. A purely spiritual cinematic moment, the film stuns on nearly every front. The soaring and tear-jerking score comprised of mostly synths and strings coming together harmoniously with the beautifully vivid cinematography and exquisite writing. An ambitious and immensely creative debut feature from Edson Oda that feels more polished than many other directors’ second or even third features. The vision and scope of this film is immense while staying relatively simple and grounded; it never falters or loses focus, never getting lost or muddled in its own high-concept setting.
Equally as compelling and lovely is its cast, led by an absolute powerhouse performance from Winston Duke. Duke’s deeply moving performance as the patient, stern, and distant Will is nothing short of genius, easily a career-best. The rest of the film’s impressive ensemble features Benedict Wong as Kyo, Will’s only real friend in the limbo-esque desert they inhabit; Tony Hale as Alexander, the most lax of the group of interviewees; and Bill Skarsgard of It fame as Kane, the morally righteous strong-arm of the group. Each of the candidates offering a distinct personality and trajectory for their life, bright and ambitious identities with their own ideas of what being alive might be like; the brighest of them being played by Zazie Beats.
Zazie’s character, designated Emma by Will during their first interaction, is the most observant, curious and eager of the bunch; the perfect antithesis to Will’s more stoic and standoffish nature. It’s this pair’s relationship and dynamic that carries much of the film’s heart and emotional weight, a pair of career-defining performances worthy of Oscar nominations.
Life is sadness and hardship, but also joy, love and celebration. Nine Days captures these themes beautifully. A tender, introspective, fantastical, and near-religious experience of a film. A universally lauded feature debut that will hopefully propel director Edson Oda into a rightfully prosperous career. Though the film has yet to find a home with any distributor, I have no doubt negotiations are being made as this film needs to be seen by the whole world.