The Ninth Gate

Rosemary’s Baby Book

Johnny Depp, starring in his second straight horror film (Sleepy Hollow), here plays an unscrupulous book dealer who is hired by filthy rich collector Frank Langella to do a little job. Langella has procured one of the few remaining copies of a 17th century occult work entitled The Nine Gates, purportedly co-authored by Satan himself. It is rumored that the book’s illustrations contain a puzzle that, if solved, will allow one to summon the Devil up to grant untold power. Depp is entrusted with the ultra-rare volume, and instructed to compare it to the only two other copies in existence in an effort to determine which of the three is authentic.

Though pushed as a horror thriller, this is actually an old fashioned detective story in disguise. Though there are flashes of the occult, as in his classic Rosemary’s Baby, director Roman Polanski walks the edge of interpretation, keeping the viewer guessing all the time. Depp begins in New York, then travels to Spain and France in his bibliographic quest, and the film has a pleasing European flavor throughout. He encounters along the way many colorful characters, including Euro-horror veteran Jack Taylor, femme fatales Lena Olin (Mystery Men) and Emmanuelle Seigner (Frantic), and other dangers. Throughout the first half, the film builds up an edgy atmosphere of paranoia – Depp knows he’s being used, but he doesn’t know just how dangerous the game will get, and it’s hard to say where the next threat will come from.

Overlong at around 2½ hours, I began to wonder where this all was going at about the 100 minute mark, and when the hell it was going to get there. There’s a brilliant thriller in here somewhere, but it may be unfortunate that producer Polanski gave director Polanski final cut. The film has a good ending, but not one that fully satisfies your stretched patience.

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