First-time filmmaker Edson Oda delivers a masterful drama with Nine Days

First-time filmmaker Edson Oda delivers a masterful drama with Nine Days
Emma (Zazie Beetz) is key to the soulful Nine Days.

Every once in a while, there is a film that is just soul shatteringly good. It creates a powerful vision all its own and breathes life into a world that is wholly unique, from its acting to its direction. It demands your attention, earning both your intense awe and overwhelming respect in every moment you spend with it. It is a film that expands what cinema can be.

Nine Days is one of those films.

With a command of craft that is methodical yet measured, it is an outstanding feature debut from writer-director Edson Oda. It follows Winston Duke's Will, a lonely recluse who is tasked with selecting souls to be born into life on Earth. In order to do this, he must interview a group of hopeful candidates over the course of nine days and select only one to be given a chance at life. The five souls are all different, even deeply flawed, though they all must undertake the same journey that Will has laid out for them.

The impetus for the interviews is that one of Will's previous selections, a young woman named Amanda, has died. Will is devastated as it was he who served as a watchful eye over Amanda and the other souls he selected through small television screens. That means he got to see the very moment Amanda met her end in a car accident, a loss that he will spend the rest of the film seeking to understand. Duke is utterly riveting in this role as he expertly balances playing the caring protector who only wishes to help those he is interviewing while also working through his own loss. However, he will soon find a connection with the interviewee Emma (Zazie Beetz), who defies all his understanding and rules about what it takes to be given the gift of life.

Their dynamic serves as the heart of the film. Will is closed off, living alone in an ethereal desert where he spends his days observing his visually striking panoply of screens. He lives a one-way relationship, detachedly watching the lives of others in what feels like a reverse version of The Truman Show. His only friend is Kyo (Benedict Wong), who sees how Will is struggling yet is unable to help him. It will be Emma who holds the key to breaking through the cage of isolation that Will has built around himself. This cage comes in the form of the aforementioned desolate desert whose vast beauty is captured perfectly by Oda, revealing how haunting this empty world is. It is in a single home in that landscape where most of the film is set.

While certainly a slow burn of a film, Oda instills every moment of stillness with a vibrant light that shines in even the quiet moments. There is a deep sense of looming sorrow hanging over everything, as it is clear most of the souls Will interviews will not be selected, though there is also a prevailing sense of joy. As the characters spend their days watching the lives of others on the screens before them, it reveals how much of our life is a mixture that is equal parts pain and jubilation. There is mundanity, yes, but there is also triumph. It is much like the film itself which is built around deceptively simple scenes of characters talking with each other. As the story progresses, it is these scenes that begin to overflow with glorious wondrous reflections on life.

To say more would be to rob one of the experience of watching this film with as fresh and open a mind as possible. It is a truly out of this world film that is epic in ambition while being laser focused in crafting its characters. Oda has delicately revealed what it means to be alive in a masterpiece of filmmaking. By looking at the trials of a select few who would like nothing more than to take part in the multifaceted experience that is life, he has held a mirror up to our very souls. For a first-time filmmaker to create so much profound beauty with such a humble story is an outstanding triumph of cinema. ♦

Four Stars NINE DAYS
Rated R
Directed by Edson Oda
Starring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong

Nine Days is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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