Nine Days (2021)

2h 4m / R / Fantasy, Drama

When directors make their debut feature films, most take on a relatively easy, straightforward project. Usually it’s something that feeds into their talent and experience, wherever that may lie: commercials, or music videos, or perhaps some past work as an assistant director. Nine Days, the first feature from Brazilian-born Edson Oda, isn’t one of those. Instead, it’s a fiercely original, supernatural, introspective character drama about a bureaucratic psychopomp assigning souls to new lives on Earth. So much for easy.

Will (Winston Duke, Black Panther) spends his days in a remote desert outpost watching people going about their lives (their points of view are broadcasted to an array of TVs) until one subject perishes, leaving a vacancy for a new life on earth. Soon, several candidate souls — Tony Hale, Bill Skarsgård, and others — arrive at Will’s to undergo tests determining their fitness. And the stakes are high; if they are found to be unsuitable, the souls cease to exist. But Will soon faces his own existential challenge in the form of free-spirited Emma (Zazie Beetz, Atlanta, Joker), forcing him to turn within and reckon with his own tumultuous past. Fueled by unexpected power, he discovers a bold new path forward in his own life. Or “life”? Hard to say. The more cynical, experienced moviegoer might expect a film of this description to be overly precious, po-faced, or pretentious. But Oda delivers a deftly-handled and heartfelt vision of human souls in limbo, aching to be born against unimaginable odds yet hindered by forces beyond their will. It takes a lot of confidence to address a question like “what makes a person deserve the life they’re given?” but Nine Days makes it clear that confidence is deserved.