‘Nine Days’ Celebrates the Gift of Life


Wyatt Garfield

Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz appear in “Nine Days” by Edson Oda, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. (Courtesy of Sundance Institute)

By Oakley Burt, Arts Editor


Every now and then, a film comes along that truly touches the soul, provokes meaningful questions and transcends the boundaries of its frame – one that is equally haunting and immersive. An official Selection of the U.S. Dramatic competition for the Sundance Film Festival, “Nine Days,” is one such film – an enchanting fantasy taking the audience on a soul-searching journey of what it means to be human.

Edson Oda’s feature film debut, “Nine Days,” revolves around Will (Winston Duke), a middle-aged recluse charged with the task of selecting which souls will get the chance to live. He spends tireless hours in a dimly lit, yellow house in the middle of a desert as he watches the lives of the souls he has selected — making note of every high and low point in their lives. His assistant Kyo (Benedict Wong) aids him in the process, but ultimately it is up to Will – who, unlike his peer, once lived a life – to “interview” the souls.

When tragedy strikes one of Will’s favorite souls, he is forced back to work as new souls converge on the desert property to compete for the vacant spot in his roster. Religious nods echo through the ensuing process as the fresh souls – played by Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård, Tony Hale, David Rysdahl and Arianna Ortiz – traipse into the dated house one by one. Will explains to each of them the rules – they get nine days to audition for life and the winner is sent to live. 

Oda takes his time to develop each character in the film – layering their traits as they become increasingly aware of themselves and feelings. Duke’s and Beetz’s performances, however, are the most notable in “Nine Days.” Duke showcases his range as an actor, shaking off his stern side in “Black Panther” and dazed dad role in “Us.” The depth of his talent becomes apparent as Will slowly and hesitantly begins to open himself up to Kyo and Emma — Beetz’s character.

Beetz is remarkable in her portrayal of Emma. It’s a complex, profound role that she performs with ease. Emma is calm, but challenges Will’s methods at every turn. She’s inquisitive, philosophical and endlessly interested in the possibilities of a world she may get to experience.

“Nine Days” is stunningly crafted as well. Oda worked with cinematographer Wyatt Garfield to bring his vision to life. Shot in various locations in Utah, the hazy desert backdrop, featuring gorgeous purple-hued sunsets, creates a celestial environment. The practical setting of Will’s cluttered, run-down and shadowy house offset this beautiful environment, but it’s where the characters begin to experience life and learn of its importance. 

“Nine Days” is tremendously imaginative and surreal – it embodies the metaphysical without becoming pretentious. It doesn’t force anything on the viewer – it only presents itself, eliciting whatever reaction it may. Existing somewhere between the ethereal and earthly planes, the past and present, “Nine Days” is an unconventional masterpiece. 

Overall, I would give “Nine Days” an 8.5 out of 10 and would highly recommend it to any lover of cinema. 


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