The Ninth Gate, directed by Roman Polanksi (Pirates, Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden and winner of the 1999 European Film Award for Life Time Achievement) stars Johnny Depp, Frank Langella and Emmanuelle Seignier (Polanksi’s wife).
Depp plays an antique book collector who discovers a demonic conspiracy whilst trying to find two copies of an ancient scripture that boasts it has the power to summon up Satan. In fact, the books are supposed to be illustrated partially by Beelzebub himself. This horror fantasy takes us through gothic locations in Europe, demonic sex and an almost Arthur Conan Doyle methodology to uncover the truth of the books. Depp sinks deeper into the bizarre occult, escapes death at the hands of an albino and discovers corpses everywhere he goes. Seignier appears at the shoulder of Depp’s character ‘Corso’, seemingly to help him along his quest, but her presence as guardian angel or demon is somewhat ambivalent.
The film has good ideas, similar to End Of Days or the excellent Devil’s Advocate. Themes such as the evils of man, ultimate sin, sacrifice and worship (and this doesn’t mean your average Friday night out on the town) are always going to attract audiences. But as the plot unravels there are so many moments of nothingness. Depp (seemingly content in the gothic fantasy genre, Sleepy Hollow, Edward Scissorhands) is miscast and his character is not particularly heroic. Seignier meanders through her role with little to say (as her English is poor anyway) and an annoying smirk on her face – her character never really lives up to its potential. While the special effects are dodgy and production is cheapskate. It will probably pull fair crowds just for the Depp factor but the only ‘Ninth Gate’ I was looking for at the end was the one leading me out!
Roman Polanksi has stayed away from doing publicity about this film in the UK as the US Government are still pursuing him on allegations of statutory rape that he was alleged to have committed. Apparently, the incident happened at Jack Nicholson’s mansion whilst the two were working on Chinamoon in the mid-Eighties.