Nine-year-old Louis Drax (Longworth) falls into a coma after a shocking accident during a family picnic. Head injury specialist Dr Pascal (Dornan) attempts to channel the child’s unconscious thoughts to discover what really happened on that fateful day, and what lies behind the strange dynamics between mother (Gadon) and son.
An adaptation of Liz Jensen’s 2004 novel, horror veteran Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Mirrors) emphasises the unsettling beats in this slight parable-cum-supernatural thriller about an accident-prone young boy, Louis (Aiden Longworth), who is seemingly extraordinarily resilient to the type of mishap that would see off most mortals. That is, until he falls off a cliff and winds up in a coma, having at first been thought dead and shipped off to the morgue. Treating him is physician Dr. Allan Pascal — Jamie Dornan employing the troubling magnetism that turned heads in The Fall and won him the lead in 50 Shades Of Grey — a coma expert who is married but increasingly drawn to Louis’ mum, Natalie (Belle’s Sarah Gadon).
Natalie is on the surface a fragile creature, although with hints of steel behind the shaky smiles, and given to sudden outbursts of disturbing passion, her liaison with Pascal complicated further by the presence of Louis’ shady dad, Peter (an underused Aaron Paul), lurking somewhere in the background. Meanwhile, who is responsible for a series of crude, trouble-stirring poison pen letters? They’re in Louis’ handwriting, but he, of course, is sound asleep.
There are interesting beats here, and Aja creates a dreamlike, uneasy atmosphere. But while performances are solid, combining fantastical elements — Louis’ unconscious life seems him conversing with a monstrous sea creature, reminiscent of Donnie Darko’s giant rabbit friend — with the gloomy themes is jarring, and makes for an odd, oppressive feel. With morally compromised, aggressively unlikeable characters (even the child, who goes out of his way to be obnoxious to the adults trying to help him) anchoring the tale, while the film at times intrigues, it’s difficult to love. The twist, when it comes, feels like it’s from a different movie, rooted firmly in the real world and in sharp contrast to the hints of magic and fable that have come before.
Part fever-dream, part supernatural thriller and not entirely successful as either, Louis Drax is nonetheless watchable, bolstered by provocative themes.