There’s enough movies about Satan coming to Earth that it can be classified as a sub genre of thriller, but I guess you can just call them supernatural thrillers. This is more of an observation. With the panic of the world ending in 2000, Hollywood of course capitalized on the fear of the people and churned out movies with apocalyptic stories with normal people caught in the middle. Even though director Roman Polanski is the opposite of what people may call “Hollywood”, he was still part of this with his film The Ninth Gate.
Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) is a rare book collector and dealer who has been tasked by the mysterious Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to acquire two copies of the aged book The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows. Only three are left in existence with Balkan already owning one, but afraid that his and another might be a forgery leaving only one to be authentic. As Corse travels Europe investigating the books, he finds a demonic conspiracy involving murder and arson, all to summon Lucifer to Earth.
The premise of The Ninth Gate provided so much material to craft an intriguing tale of paranoia, religion, and a possible supernatural truth. For a good portion of the film, that’s what I thought it was all about, but then some weird things started to happen that really didn’t need to. One of these things is actually showing someone glide down a set of stairs, and this really came out of nowhere. By showing something as surreal as this, no matter how cool it looked, I felt like Polanski was taking away the mystery of the entire movie. If it was supposed to be a thriller about the paranoia Corso feels due to this particular assignment, I would have been so much more interested. Instead, I felt like I was being spoon fed what to believe.
Then, after all the unnecessary exposition, we get an ending whose only cause is to baffle the audience. I feel like I was stuck in this weird limbo of not being too sure of what was going on. If a film maker decides to reveal the mysteries of the plot, that’s fine, even though I don’t always feel like that’s a good idea. What happens here is we get a lot of exposition, but not enough to really grasp what’s happening. Did Polanski and the other writers not know whether to make this a puzzle movie or straightforward thriller and just decide to meet each other half way? That’s sure what it feels like.
But, even though the way the story is presented has brutal flaws, I will concede that it had some excellent scenes. One in particular is the aftermath of a murder that is revealed so well and creatively. Another scene that sticks out happens when two characters do the dirty in front of a burning castle with some epic demonic music playing in the background. These are just honorable mentions and saved the movie from being totally unmemorable.
Roman Polanski is no stranger to films about Satan or the insanity of religion. Just look at Rosemary’s Baby. That is a fine example of how a thriller of this type should be done. Mysteriously and with subtlety. The Ninth Gate started with these recipes, then just disintegrated into unremarkable attempts at creating something memorable. Polanski said that he only wants to make movies “that he would want to see.” I can’t really imagine getting too worked up over this movie. It has a few scenes that stick out, but not enough to support the entire movie.