banner image

:: The Ninth Gate

This film had received a mixed rating when it showed at the Melbourne International Film Festival a few months ago. But it popularly attended because it had Johnny Depp as the lead actor, and there was a fascination towards it being directed by the controversial Roman Polanski. It is Polanski’s first film in years and, in the mould of his previous work, eg. “Rosemary’s Baby”, it is dark and creepy. His emphasis for a heightened amount of suspense and lengthy exposition are clear. It is probably unnecessarily long at 133 minutes, although the unevenness and erratic nature make the film enjoyable, but not brilliant.
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is an expert in the field of rare books, and thus earns his money through buying and selling in an unscrupulous manner. He is employed by millionaire collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to verify the authenticity of one of his treasured possessions – a rare 16th century book, which reputedly holds the key to conjuring Satan. The book contains the nine gates in a series of engravings, split between the only three copies known to exist. Balkan believes that there is only one true book. As Corso begins researching, people start dying and strange things begin to occur. He is suddenly shadowed by a seductive French woman (Emmanuelle Seigner), who, curiously, gets him out of awkward situations. However, we don’t get a proper insight into her mysterious character. Slowly but surely Corso begins to realise what may be at stake, and the high price one can pay for obsessions such as this one.
The film had so much promise but falls slightly short as a potentially great, demonic thriller. The ingredients were all there – intriguing plot, exotic locations, and Depp’s character. It’s just that the supposed thriller didn’t thrill as anticipated. “The Ninth Gate” holds it s secrets too close to its chest, with several incidents unexplained at the conclusion, for instance, the murders and the woman. The final scene is all too vague and unsatisfying. Polanski’s point about the seductive nature of evil is ultimately lost because Corso turns shallow.
It’s a shame because Depp works hard at trying to make this work. The Corso character is intended to be a terrific, absorbing one, but suffers. Langella’s role as a devious mastermind could also have been meatier. Instead, the more delicious roles are those by Lena Olin, as a vengeful socialite, and Barbara Jefford as Countess Kessler. In the end, “The Ninth Gate” is pleasurable in certain aspects but irritating in that, although engaging in its obscurity, it could have been a fantastic thriller/horror. It left an unfulfilled taste.