20 August 2015

THE NINTH GATE

THE NINTH GATE

German Title:
Die Neun Pforten

Spain / France / USA, 1999
Director: Roman Polanski

8/10








23 years after his last horror-related feature "The Tenant" (1976, which is still criminally underrated), the great Roman Polanski returned to the horror genre with a highly entertaining and more-fascinating-than-expected mystery-horror-thriller, loosely based on Arturo Pérez-Reverte's 1993 bestseller novel "The Club Dumas", following rare book dealer Dean Corso (cool name!) who gets hired by wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (even cooler name!) to seek out the last two copies of 17th-century author Aristide Torchia's "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of the Shadows". According to legend, the book was co-written by the Devil himself (ooh, spooky!).


Balkan believes that his own copy of the book is real while the other two are fake, though he isn't quite sure, so he employs Corso to compare and authenticate his copy with the other two (one is in Portugal, the other one in France). Corso travels to Europe and expects the search to be rather easy, but soon he realizes that there's something seriously wrong: he stumbles over odd people hiding dark secrets, a mysterious woman with glowing green eyes who seems to persecute him, dead bodies, dangerous mysteries and a bizarre riddle hidden in all three copies of the book...

No, it's obviously not on the same level as Polanski's masterpiece "Rosemary's Baby", but it's yet another movie that fully proves why Polanski is one of the absolute best European directors of all time, and also one of the very few filmmakers who seem to be totally 'unable' to make a bad movie. "The Ninth Gate" performed poorly at the box office and audiences were highly disappointed by the movie's weird ending, yet over the years, it has garnered a still-growing fanbase that seem to solely consist of people who realized that the movie gets better and better, gets more and more interesting with every single viewing.


There's a reason why so many people, especially your average horror fans, don't like it: "The Ninth Gate" simply isn't a horror film! Although it contains shitloads of classic horror tropes and well-known horror clichés, Polanski uses them in completely unconventional ways, throwing the viewers many red herrings, leading them astray, making fun of them, as well as of the entire horror genre itself, though not like in "Scream" or a "Cabin in the Woods", but in a really clever and unexpectedly sophisticated way. Audiences probably expected it to be something "Devil's Advocate" or "The Omen", but they completely missed the point. Polanski obviously didn't wanted to make an average horror film about Satan. He made "The Ninth Gate" because he highly enjoyed the book it's based on ("It was suspenseful, funny, and there were a great number of secondary characters that are tremendously cinematic."), because, although he doesn't believe in the occult, he enjoys the genre in his very own way ("I don't believe in the occult. I don't believe. Period, [but] there [are] a great number of clichés of this type in "The Ninth Gate", which I tried to turn around a bit. You can make them appear serious on the surface, but you cannot help but laugh at them.") and because "the Devil is a good guy to make a film about."


Nevertheless, there's still enough horror in it, and aside from being tense and tremendously suspenseful from the very first to the very last minute, the movie offers a few scenes that are downright horrifc and totally scared the shit out of me, especially the one where a dead woman in an electric wheelchair rolls into a burning room, or the one where a man sets himself on fire because he thinks he's invincible... which obviously ends pretty bad.

Every scene that involves one of the book's eerie engravings is marvellously filmed and developed in an insanely brilliant way that makes the viewer feel as if he/she is actually the one who has to find out what's wrong about the copies of the book. In addition, all the engravings look just gorgeous.


Darius Khondji's (Oscar nomination for "Evita") photography is as amazing as everything he has done so far, and the editing by Hervé de Luze (Oscar nomination for "The Pianist") is fantastic, though the best thing about "The Ninth Gate" is the absolutely stellar music by Wojciech Kilar (no Oscar, no nomination, fuck you Academy!). Seriously, his compositions are simply eargasmic, be it the masterful and eerie opening overture, the aggressive piano attacks, or the recurring jaunty trumpet-theme... hell, my ears had a total blast! :D

Johnny Depp delivers a surprisingly reserved, yet powerful and highly concinving performance (IMO one of his most underappreciated 90s performances), alongside a really stunning cast that consists of the beautiful Emmanuelle Seigner (Polanski's super-hawt wife!), the uber-sexy Lena Olin (goddammit, this woman is even hawter!), a great-as-always Frank Langella (who looks extra-creepy here), and a wonderful Barbara Jefford (who is she? this woman is incredible!).


A few slightly-too-slow scenes, and the ending, which is indeed weird and a tad underwhelming prevent me from giving it a higher rating. nevertheless, I think "The Ninth Gate" is a terrific and extremely unique film, and IMO the most impressive thing Polanski has done between "Tess" (1979) and "The Pianist" (2002).

8 comments:

  1. Another one of my favorites. Great write up.

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  2. A firm favourite, and another brilliant review.

    I completely forgot Frank Langella was in this, I think he's awesome, particularly his portrayal of Dracula, back in the 70s. I watched a film called Robot and Frank a few weeks back and he was quite brilliant in that too. It's a moving tale, maybe not your cup of tea :)

    Enjoy your weekend!

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    1. Langella is fantastic, and I think he's actually a criminally underrated actor. He's one of them who can make a bad film watchable just because of his breathtaking acting!

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  3. This does sound interesting - I've missed seeing it up until now...

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    Replies
    1. You really have to see it. I think you might like it...

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  4. Saw this years ago and remember really enjoying it. Frank Langella is amazing, and it's a great performance by Depp. To be honest I can't remember too much about it (can't remember the ending at all), but your cool review makes me want to see it again,

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    Replies
    1. Glad I could help ;)
      Yeah, Langella and Depp are both absolutely breathtaking, especially Langella.

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