Film - The Ninth Gate

The Ninth Gate

A demonic film based on a Spanish book? Steve Taylor-Bryant takes a look at The Ninth Gate, now back on Netflix...

I know, I know, Roman Polanski Blah Blah Blah... I'm sick of hearing it! I review his films as I would anyone else's, on merit not on lifestyle of the film maker. And, just so you know, I love Polanski films. All of them. The Ninth Gate is based on Spanish novel The Dumas Club by Arturo Perez-Reverte and is the tale of a shady book dealer hired to see if Lucifer actually co-wrote a book. A great premise is it not? How many Devil Detective films are there in existence? Not many, fewer if you add in it's also about books.

The film begins with the suicide of Andrew Telfer, a collector of extremely rare books and then moves onto our hero of the piece ( I am not sure if hero is the right term but it will do) Dean Corso, played by Johnny Depp, who is conning a greedy couple out of a very rare copy of Don Quixote whilst their stroke victim relative, who owns it, is full of internal despair at such a low valuation. It becomes obvious from this point that Corso is not liked by his more professional peers.

Corso is summoned to see billionaire book collector of the occult, Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), who purchased one of only three remaining copies of 'Nine Gates to the Kingdom of Shadows' written by Aristide Torchia, burned at the stake in 1666 for allegedly writing in collaboration with Lucifer, from the now deceased Telfer and is not convinced it is genuine. Corso quips that he couldn’t raise the devil but agrees to investigate the other copies to see if there are any differences.

From this moment on Corso's life will never be the same. Followed everywhere by a mysterious girl on a motorbike, hunted down at every turn by Telfer's widow (including trying to bed Corso to get the book back) and then there’s the ritual killing taken straight from the books illustration of his friend and book shop owner Bertie, where Corso had hidden Balkan's copy of The Nine Gates for safekeeping.

The Ninth Gate

Corso arrives in Spain to talk to twins who owned the book originally, who inform him each copy of the book has their own destiny and that the wood carving illustrations are either signed AT after the author or LCF after Lucifer, with each book having a different order of the illustrations signatures. Corso then moves onto Victor Fargas who owns another copy, but when he returns to discuss the book further Fargas has been drowned, the illustrations removed from the book and the book burned. The owner of the third copy Baroness Kessler suffers a similar fate and her copy also burned.

Liana Telfer (Lena Olin) the widow is trying to raise the Devil with her cult the 'Order of the Silver Serpent' and must be stopped by Corso and The Girl (Emmanuelle Seigner) before any damage is done, which also includes killing Balkan for the same thing. After a sex scene that involves fire and devilish imagery, Corso discovers an original wood carving and manages to open The Ninth Gate. It's not to raise Lucifer it's to go to Hell and join him, which Corso's greed makes him do.

The film is not full of CGI effects or horror in the traditional sense, instead Polanski uses atmosphere to subtly build an intense effect as the film moves forward. One scene where scaffolding falls nearly killing Corso is reminiscent of The Omen and sparks wonderful memories of the films made in that era.

The small eclectic cast are all superb but it is Johnny Depp that steals the film. Anyone who only knows Depp from the Pirates of the Caribbean films needs to see The Ninth Gate to put in their minds that the man is an incredible actor.

Images - Deppimpact.