"The 9th Life of Louis Drax"
Director:
Alexandre Aja
Stars: Adrien Longworth, Sarah Gadon
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“How’s that working out for you? Being clever?” snorts Tyler Durden to Edward Norton’s super-yuppie in “Fight Club.” For awhile in “The 9th Life of Louis Drax,” being clever works out pretty good. A mix of fantasy and horror and noir and melodrama that plays like a demented, R-rated fable, the latest from French stylist Alexandre Aja (“High Tension,” “Horns”) works so hard to keep us off-balance, to make us wonder where, exactly, it’s going, that it can’t help but wind up at a disappointing end. It might even be a more dodgy finish than what almost meets its hero: a boy (played by Adrien Longworth) introduced plummeting off a tall cliff toward the camera. 

RELATED: Interview: Natasha Lyonne on "Antibirth" and why she fears the L train

Don’t worry: He’ll be fine. Young Louis is accident-prone but as resilient as a Maytag product. A disarmingly bouncy, goofy montage hips us to his horrors that would terrify any parent: He’s almost electrocuted by a socket, stung by too many bees, food-poisoned, nearly crushed as a baby by a chandelier collapsing into his crib. His fall is his eighth brush with death, this one averted when he merely fell into the sea and into a coma. His perpetually worried mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon), tells police his loutish boxer of a stepdad, Peter (Aaron Paul), pushed him, and may be back for more. Meanwhile, a handsome pioneering doctor (Jamie Dornan, as dull and wooden as he was in "Fifty Shades") tries to get in his mind, to find the hidden truth.

Like Peter, “Louis Drax” moves like a boxer, playfully ducking out of the way, constantly dazzling us with neat stuff and funny hooks — anything to keep our mind away from what’s coming. Being a twist movie, we can’t discuss what that is, or why the conclusion is a huge, problematic letdown. We can praise the technique. Aja started off in extreme horror but, with “Horns,” began playing mad scientist, mashing together disparate genres into handsome trinkets. The score in “Louis Drax” is lush and Bernard Hermann-y. Longworth is a fine precocious boy thespian, like a fun young Haley Joel Osment. Gadon delivers her expected heroic turn, at once old school Hollywood glamour and modern. The movie gives us weirdo hypnosis scenes, a talking sea monster and Oliver Platt, as a child psychologist, slurping soup. But it’s all for show. Something being clever is a good sign that it will only let us down.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge