Saturday 1 December 2012

Dark Review - The Ninth Gate

Dark Review Image

The Ninth Gate Review

By Casey Douglass

The Ninth Gate stars Johnny Depp in the role of rare book dealer Dean Corso, who is commissioned by wealthy book collector Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to track down two books, presumed identical to the one he has recently purchased, "The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows." There is some concern that only one of them is the genuine article, and Mr. Balkan is very anxious to make sure that his is the legitimate one. Balkan charges Corso with the task of investigating this state of affairs, and when Corso has second thoughts, Balkan plays hard-ball.

At this point, the story unfolds, with strange happenings and ruthless murders as people associated with the books are "silenced" by two seemingly warring agencies, and Corso is trapped right in the middle. It is the classic "back-stabbing" type film which encourages the audience to wonder who will turn on who next. This lends the film the aspect of a long riddle at times, but it isn't in the least bit tedious. It is more like a teasing wordsearch that you cannot help but keep coming back to.

The threads of duplicity and satanic influence meandering through the film grow in intensity as it progresses, all quite masterfully shot and directed by Roman Polanski. There is a scene about half way through, where a car almost runs over Corso on a quiet country lane. It misses and the driver gets out and slowly approaches the stricken man. A motorbike roars up and stops a short distance back. The driver turns on his heel and races off, the motorbike following shortly after the car has vanished from view. A simple scene but the combination of the music and the expression on Depp's face elevated it to a highly tense one, but over in less than thirty seconds. There are similarly powerful scenes scattered liberally throughout the film. Another is a walk along a deserted Spanish street. Shadow half covers the narrow alleyway surrounded by sandy sun-bleached buildings. Nothing is happening, but it has an oppresive quality that really makes you feel on edge, and that seems to be a rare thing in many dark movies these days.

I am impressed with Johnny Depp in this film. I am not one of his greatest fans, but I do recognise his acting ability. He plays the grey morality of Corso very convincingly, and even though he is roguish and unbelieving, the conflicts that arise in his nature as the film progress just seem "correct" as far as anything like that can be. He certainly isn't a loveable character, but by the end of the film you might feel a little more affectionate towards him.

Films with this kind of subject matter always appeal to me, having quite a liking for H.P Lovecraft's fascination with the placing of mythical old tomes of forbidden knowledge, like the fabled Necronomicon and Brian Lumley's Cthäat Aquadingen to name but two. The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows is another that seems to fill this role perfectly, and I think it would be very fitting if it was seen on the shelves of some infernal library, in the company of these other prodigious tomes.

Rating : 5/5