Which came first – the over-protective mother or the accident-prone child?
Aiden Longworth is the title boy Louis Drax – an intelligent but troubled kid who has an unfortunate annual ritual of getting into near-death experiences. As his mother Natalie, a nostalgic glamour figure played by Sarah Godon, saves him each year, she makes reference to a cat’s nine lives on his ninth birthday, and whispers her fear of it hopefully not being his last.
The ethereal bombshell utters the obvious and after a family picnic, Louis ends up falling over a cliff, ending up in a comatose state after being saved from the fall, with his father (Aaron Paul) on the run for pushing him over.
Dr. Pascale (Jamie Dornan) swoops in for the save, with his TED talks and unorthodox methods as a paediatric neurologist, taking Louis in as his latest patient to cultivate.
What follows next is a movie genre mix that has me more baffled than the actual story mystery itself.
Adaptations from literary mediums are always tricky. It’s clear first-time screenwriter Max Minghella couldn’t convey Liz Jensen’s novel of the same name in all its drama and story arcs. What should have been intricately weaved fell quickly apart, over golden tones and blurry filters, into an unconvincing thriller that seems dopey and feels hollow.
Director Alexandre Aja follows the falter, creating elements that just do not mesh as a whole. The actors feel like they are from different worlds, and their responses equally disconnected. Halfway through, a barnacle-laden, seaweed-strewing monster that looks like a mer-cousin of Groot appears, lending some sense of the supernatural to the proceedings. Is that Death? Is that his imaginary friend? Why is Louis talking so much to it?
The tightrope a mystery thriller should walk is quickly tipped off its balance, when the film tries to entice with more questions but forgets to answer them. Even then, the questions are insipid, seemingly to cater this film to a younger audience.
For example, Dr. Pascal is seemingly brilliant with unconventional methods that presumably works. But his only cutting theory was how he believes people choose to stay in a coma until they feel safe to wake up. The missing father Peter is supposedly a criminal on the run, yet there is nothing in the story to suggest why he would commit such an act. Even Louis himself, albeit coming across with refreshing candour, seems to carry an anger and obnoxiousness that is executed with forced verbal mechanics – like his obtuse use of “blah, blah, blah” to indicate stupidity. His smart-alecky ways (always seeping through his random narrations) grate so much, that when he starts to introduce his “Rule of Disposal” to his then-psychiatrist (Oliver Platt), crushing a hamster under a heavy tome just because they have lived their lifespan, we start to lose all emotional want for this kid to come out of his coma.
Even when a warm score and surreal dream effects is introduced by Aja to butter up the story, it comes at inappropriate moments, served amidst an unbelievable romance thread between Natalie and Dr. Pascal. Jellyfish, lumbering monster friend, obvious riddles – we’ve seen it all before.
The revelation at the end can be clearly felt before the movie passes midway. The twists were mismanaged, with double reveals that served no purpose other than weakening their impact. The social commentary has been diluted by characters we have no sympathy for. In fact, interestingly it is the unmanufactured moments, such as the one when Peter and Louis have a down-to-earth father and son parting talk, as well as straightforward characters like Peter’s mother (Barbara Hershey) and investigating officer (Molly Parker) that provided much relief from this visually playful but emotionally clumsy film.
A fantasy thriller that teeters between contrived whimsy and cheesy sentimentality, Louis Drax needs another incarnation to get out of this inadequate execution.
The film is currently showing at all Golden Village and Cathay cinemas.
First published: www.moviexclusive.com (September 2016)