Nine Days is a strange and metaphysical piece that generates its own magical reality. In a lone house in the desert, Will (Winston Duke) must judge a number of souls, to see which is worthy of life. In the course of nine days each of them will study life, and through those days experience the emotions and sensations that humanity will bring. However, with a personal tragedy making Will reconsider his task, it’s questionable whether he would be able to choose the right candidate.
Nine Days certainly tilts towards the theatrical. Normally that could be seen as an issue, but here there’s a harmonised blending of the two mediums that serves the subject well. Cinema allows for a closer and more personal view, and a thorough examination of the emotional impact through visual means, but it still allows space for those wondrous soliloquies and two-handers to have a dramatic influence.
That hybridisation is something that Nine Days leans into with its script, allowing for large dialogue driven scenes that examine the nature of humanity. Set in a formless desert hinterland outside of life (a bardo, or a limbo), Nine Days avoids any ties to a definitive cosmology, instead preferring to discuss universal philosophical tenements, rather than theological nuances. It seeks an understanding of what is the purpose of life, what it means to be human, and what is the best use of that opportunity. All of this works for Nine Days allowing the actors to excel at their craft, and creating a piece that is contemplative in its pacing, subject matter, and style.
Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us) gives a marvelously contained performance, allowing aspects of emotion to creep through the façade of the rather locked-down Will. Contrasted against this is the free-spirited Emma (Zazie Beetz), and the rather eccentric Kyo (Benedict Wong), both bring out the other nuances of Will, while allowing Beetz and Wong to be as charismatic as hell. This really is an actor’s film, with the focus given to dialogue and interaction, allowing those performances to shine through.
A staggering feature film debut for writer and director Edson Oda, Nine Days is a contemplative gem that will haunt you for weeks after it has faded from the screen.