With an incredibly vague premise that could read as pretentiously high-concept, Nine Days is the type of life-altering experience that, as cliched as it is to state, needs to be seen to be believed.
A powerful piece of storytelling that announces writer/director Edson Oda as a major talent to keep tabs on, Nine Days centres itself around the pensive Will (Winston Duke). In an old-fashioned house seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Will spends his days in front of a television-adorned wall, viewing countless hours of first-person POV on old tube TV screens; this being the first inclination that a time period is more abstract than definitive.
He’s clearly invested in all of this footage – we see a bride-to-be preparing for her day amongst footage of a young child being relentless bullied – but it’s a promising violinist that earns his focus the most. Though a voyeuristic set-up, there’s a more helplessness laced to Will’s viewing of the footage, and when he witnesses a fatal disaster – one that he can’t help but watch play out in real time – he’s shaken to his core. It’s here that Oda’s concept starts to take more of an understandable shape.
A guardian angel of sorts, Will’s desolate surrounding is the home-ground for reincarnation. With the aforementioned accident essentially opening up a new space for life on Earth, Will oversees a before-life process where he interviews a series of candidates who are auditioning to be “born”. The titular time frame is the length in which this process will take.
Bizarre and overambitious it may sound, it’s remarkable how fluid Nine Days is in its narrative depiction. It could have been an overwritten experience or leaned too far into a science-fiction mentality, yet there’s such a beautiful tactility to how it represents this type of reverse-purgatory environment it creates. There’s an heirloom approach to how Will and his lone companion, Benedict Wong‘s Kyo, set about satisfying the final wishes of the candidates who are unsuccessful that furthers the innate humanity Oda clearly wants to express.
As much as the film presents the candidates as the subject arcs to be uncovered – Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, and an enchanting Zazie Beetz three of the more viable applicants – it’s Will that ultimately learns the most about himself in an environment he so, at times, shrewdly commands. The teacher becomes the student in the most humane of ways, leading to an absolutely stunning climax that highlights Duke’s commanding, captivating presence. This is storytelling and filmmaking in its purest form.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Nine Days is screening in Australian theatres from July 15th, 2021.