Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a book dealer who specializes in rare items. He is hired by a wealthy collector named Boris Balkan, who has acquired “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows“: a 17th century book that is rumored to be able to summon the Devil himself. It is said that the author of the book, Aristide Torchia, wrote the book in collaboration with the Devil, and that only three copies survived. Balkan suspects that only one of these books are authentic, and that’s the reason he’s hired Corso: so he can inspect the other books and determine which one is the real deal. Corso accepts the job, and begins his travels to check out the other books. Soon, he comes into contact with a mysterious woman who appears to be following him…and he’s getting more and more drawn into a supernatural conspiracy.
The Ninth Gate is a neo-noir horror thriller by Roman Polanski, which is loosely based on Arturo Péres-Reverte’s novel called The Club Dumas (El Club Dumas) from 1993. Polanski liked the script so much and “saw so many elements that seemed good for a movie. It was suspenseful, funny, and there were a great number of secondary characters that are tremendously cinematic“. Polanski was very clear about not believing in the occult at all…but he certainly liked the genre, that’s for sure. While The Ninth Gate is nowhere near as popular or praised as his first devil-worship movie, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), it’s still a solid and stylish Polanski thriller.
Polanski’s knack at storytelling easily keeps the viewer engaged enough throughout the movie, with minimal use of special effects. In fact, there is very little violence or blood, and it relies on atmosphere and mystery accompanied by absorbing European scenery and cinematography. The cast is good, with a good performance by Depp who is portraying the unscrupulous and cynical book dealer who finds himself entangled in occultism and devil worship. There’s a lot of occult and tarot-like symbolism in here, some which may even be easily overlooked, like for example the obvious difference between the journeys of Corso and Balkan, going in opposite directions. I guess it’s one of those movies where taking everything at face value might leave you bored and moderately confused by this little puzzle of a film…there’s so much symbolism and small things that may not be too apparent, but makes a huge difference when you notice it. Certainly that old phrase comes to good use here: the Devil is in the details!
The Ninth Gate is a movie that has, since its release, received very mixed reception where some have been put off by the heavy use of symbolism and the apparently non-conclusive ending. But overall, I think The Night Gate is an enjoyable atmospheric and symbolistic occult horror thriller that has Polanski’s quirky humour and slightly absurd tone all over it.
Director: Roman Polanski
Country & year: France, Spain, 1999
Actors: Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, Barbara Jefford, Jack Taylor, José López Rodero, Tony Amoni, James Russo, Willy Holt, Allen Garfield, Jacques Dacqmine, Joe Sheridan