While there is much focus on the afterlife, or the possibility of the post-life world, writer/director Edson Oda’s debut feature film Nine Days, starring Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us), looks at a kind of pre-life version of purgatory souls go through before going into life on Earth.
Are there qualities that makes one soul a better candidate for life than others?
That’s essentially Will’s task in Nine Days, played by Duke, as an "interviewer" who is must select souls who are best qualified to get “the amazing opportunity of life,” with assistance from the more spirited Kyo (Benedict Wong).
Will spends a lot time watching footage of the souls he has already sent to Earth, in a dark room full of retro television screens, with the footage stored on VHS tapes.
After the sudden death of one of Will’s seemingly favourite souls who made it to life, a gifted violinist named Amanda (Lisa Starrett), Will must choose a soul to fill that "vacancy" over the course of nine days of tests, with souls played by Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development), Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2, Joker), Bill Skarsgård (IT), David Rysdahl (That's Not Us) and Arianna Ortiz (This Is Us).
Each of these candidates has their own way of approaching the tests that Will gives them, being asked what they would do in difficult life situations, writing down aspects of the lives they can see, in the footage Will has, that they like and don’t like.
Ultimately a type of Hunger Games narrative is being developed but in an almost stage-like fashion, as Will interacts with each of the candidates for life.
Beetz’s character, a soul named Emma, stands out from the crowd. She doesn't want to follow Will’s instructions but rather, she's more interested in constantly asking - why?
All of this happens while Will grapples with the death of Amanda, battling with the idea that he missed something that led to her death, as he obsessively watches video footage of her life.
Japanese-Brazilian writer/directer Oda, who drew inspiration from his own personal experience of losing a family member and learning how to be alone when he left his native Brazil to go to university in California, tackles the complexity and depth of questions about life and mortality in a way that is uniquely balanced. It's heavy, but digestible. The metaphysical aspects of the story don't take away or bog down the development of each character within the narrative.
The visuals help to establish a haunting feeling throughout the film, there’s a sense of sorrow but it’s the way each soul tackles each test, and how their relationship with Will develops, that humanizes every element of the storyline. How would you respond to these tests? What would you do in this situation? Those are the questions you end up asking yourself throughout the film.
This is while Will’s personal sensitivity breaks through, particularly as he interacts with Emma.
Ultimately, Nine Days will make you evaluate what’s important in life, all within this powerfully resonant story.
Nine Days opens in Canadians theatres on Aug. 13