The Ninth Gate (1999) – Roman Polanski

Johnny Depp finds himself caught up in a literary supernatural film noir that serves as the next entry in the chapter of The Devil’s Work in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movie. Using the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte as its basis the film follows a book detective, Corso (Depp) who is hired by the mysterious collector Balkan (Frank Langella) to track down copies of a book that was purportedly written by the devil, himself.

The book, called The Ninth Gate, suggests that if properly understood, and deciphered, an adept of the manuscript should be able to call for the Prince of Darkness. Corso is more interested in the pay check he is offered, but soon becomes obsessed with the differences in the three remaining editions, and the possible secrets they may reveal.

With death and destruction dogging his footsteps, he is watched, and accompanied by The Girl (Emmanuelle Seigner), who is definitely more than she appears to be, and she and Lena Olin, who also makes an appearance in the film, are definitely supernatural femme fatales.

We aren’t given all the answers, the characters are definitely shades of grey (well maybe darker than that) and the trappings are very much those of a film noir, but with supernatural overtones and it’s interesting to see Polanski (controversial personage or not) return to an occult story, his first since Rosemary’s Baby.

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Corso’s globe-trotting leads him to a remote French castle, and a final confrontation, but even then, we don’t get all the answers. But that’s what’s enjoyable about it, as you try and draw your own conclusions about what happens, and the effect it will have on Corso.

I’ve not always been the biggest Polanski fan, and considering his history, and why he can’t return to the States it’s also very understandable to not like him at all, but separating the art from the artist is kind of necessary for this film.

I like Depp in this film, this was before he started taking on more family friendly roles, like in Pirates, and I’ve always had something for Seigner. They make an interesting pair, and Polanski clouds the narrative with enough mystery to make you wonder about everything in an armchair detective kind of way.

I love films like that which brush up against the possibility of hidden history, and the idea that real darkness is an incantation away, and that there are battles of sorts taking place behind the everyday facade of reality.

It may, in fact, be time to revisit the book. And also look, with anticipation at what else is coming down the pipe in DK Books’ Monsters in the Movies. Pick one up today, and find something monstrous to watch tonight!

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