AFI FEST 2020: Nine Days

Nine Days. Courtesy of Sony Classics.

Nine Days features a unique take on the concept of life as one man has the sole power to decide which souls will be born on Earth.

Will (Winston Duke) spends his days watching human life on older television sets thanks to videos recorded by Kyo (Benedict Wong).  Think of him as a gatekeeper as he watches people living their daily lives.  It’s a thankless job but I suppose somebody has to do it.  The main reason we get to know Will is he is the person who gets to decide which souls are born on Earth.  He interviews a number of candidates after Amanda, a musical prodigy, suddenly dies.  The interview alone is not the only test.  Worthy candidates must also complete some challenges in order to see if they are emotionally and spiritually fit for life on Earth.

Emma (Zazie Beetz) is among the few candidates rising up and challenge Will on the matter.  It’s enough cause for an existential crisis if you will.  After all, Will has all this power in determining who gets to live but we know very little about his own background.  Before they make the final cut, they get to experience what life on Earth could have been like.  It’s just a taste of life through the old-school process photography screens.  Ah, life before CGI.

“Who the fuck are you to judge us?!” Alexander yells at Will in an intense moment.

It’s a good question.  Why does Will have so much power in deciding who gets to be born?  Shouldn’t such a concept be up to a tribunal at the very least?  Anyhow, Will’s own experiences on Earth give him a cynical point of view.  Through Emma challenging Will, we learn just what exactly makes him so pessimistic about life.  Will may have committed suicide so there is a sense of irony in that he now finds himself acting as a gatekeeper on who gets to be born into the world.

Edson Oda comes up with a feature film debut that is unlike any other I have seen in recent years.  His script asks the tough questions and takes us in a direction we least expect.  This is one of those films that audiences must experience–whether in a shared communal experience (post-vaccine, of course) or from the comfort of one’s couch.

I’m a fairly religious person.  And despite what the text says, there’s always a question of where life comes from.  If you read Torah: The Five Books of Moses by Rabbi Chaim Miller, you’ll read a lot of commentary about reincarnation.  In terms of Judaism, depending on which rabbis you read, the concept of reincarnation isn’t new.  The concept of a gatekeeper is one that I’ve never heard of before.  Or at least I wasn’t taught about in my religious education.

When people think of science fiction films, the first thing that comes to mind is usually a big-budget blockbuster.  However, blockbusters aren’t the only sci-fi films in existence.  Sundance has played home to a number of low-budget sci-fi indies. Another Earth is a striking example over the years.  This year’s festival saw a few sci-fi films including Nine Days, Palm Springs, and Save Yourselves!  But back to my point, they don’t need to be a big-budget spectacled affair.  Nine Days very much fits the definition even if it’s a low-key drama.

This is one of those films where the star-studded cast alone is enough to pique my interest.  Because of a mix of both timing and health, I did not get a chance to see the film during Sundance.  Audiences will be able to see the film in due time.  Trust me when I say that you should not miss Nine Days.

CAST:  Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, David Rhysdahl, Arianna Ortiz, with Tony Hale and Bill Skarsgård

Nine Days screened during during the 2020 AFI FEST in the New Auteurs program. Sony Classics will open the film on January 22, 2021. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.