Saturday, February 1, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Nine Days

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Nine Days
Directed by Edson Oda
U.S. Dramatic Competition

No one really knows how the universe works, and there are many different theories about what happens after death. What isn’t always as explored is the idea of birth and where we come from, with the creation of life most often discussed when it comes to what specifically constitutes conception. Thinking about life as an opportunity that not everyone gets is inherently intriguing, and, fortunately, science fiction presents the possibility of exploring that concept through a literal lens in which people actually apply and audition for the very special privilege of getting to be alive.

Will (Winston Duke) spends his days in a house in the middle of a vast desert, watching TV screens that show the lives of a handful of people from their perspectives. He is devastated when one of his favorites, Amanda, is killed in a car crash on the way to a musical performance, which means he must find her replacement. Five candidates have nine days to watch the screens and take notes, answering his questions about what they would do in given situations and what has stuck with them most. Alexander (Tony Hale), Kane (Bill Skarsgard), Maria (Arianna Ortiz), Mike (David Rysdahl), and Emma (Zazie Beetz) all respond differently, contributing to Will’s eventual decision that will result in life for one and nothingness for the rest.

This idea is an insightful and deeply thought-provoking one, with minimal explanation about who these people are before they are able to live and why it is that they are predisposed to react a certain way without any life experience. That mystery is not a problem since this film is focused instead on response and meaning, of which there is plenty, both from the candidates and from Will, as well as from his far more expressive colleague Kyo (Benedict Wong), who stops by often to check on his very dedicated friend. There is a wonderful beauty in the stoic Will’s determination to grant those he eliminates the chance to experience the most poignant event they saw, laboring tremendously to recreate it right before they evaporate and disappear.

The performances in this film are incredibly strong, led by Duke in a buttoned-up and reserved turn that begs the question of whether emotionless objectivity is indeed the best measure by which to evaluate candidates. Hale is well-cast as a cruder applicant whose unserious approach is enlightening in its own way, and Beetz stands out as an outlier who refuses to answer Will’s questions by asking her own each time he tries to extract a choice out of her. The entire cast is excellent, enhancing a vivid and fascinating externalization of some of life’s biggest questions, presented here in a workable, haunting, and immensely compelling format.


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