Ninth Gate, The

Director: Roman Polanski

U.S.A.-France-Spain| 1999. Colour. Technovision anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 133 mins.

Another Polanski descent into the diabolical, this film stars Johnny Depp as an unscrupulous bookseller hired by a rich demonologist (Frank Langella) to authenticate his copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows, reputedly co-authored by Lucifer and, properly decoded, offering a doorway to the underworld. Given the satanic subject, the visuals seem rather restrained—Depp has more to fear from the phone than the supernatural—but Polanski has always favoured atmosphere over spectacle. The real disquiet here comes from a disorientating sense of space and from the hero’s edgy encounters with others involved in his quest: the formidable widow of the book’s previous owner (Lena Olin); twin antiquarians; a Baroness (Barbara Jefford) in a wheelchair who whirls to an untimely end; and a woman of mystery (Emmanuelle Seigner, who else?) who may be seductress or sorceress. The ending disappoints, but the ambience is powerful, and one senses something of Polanski in Depp’s restless enquirer: a man seeking the key to where he truly belongs.

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