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The Ninth Gate

Year: 1999
Production Co: Artisan Entertainment
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Arturo Pérez-Reverte/John Brownjohn/Enrique Urbizu/Roman Polanski
Cast: Johnny Depp, Emmanuelle Seigner, Frank Langella, Lena Olin

When I cued this movie up I didn't remember why I'd wanted to watch it. A horror thriller apparently about communing with hell from the late 90s starring a pre-Pirates Johnny Depp isn't normally the sort of thing that would interest me, but then I when I saw the director (paedophile rapist and piece of shit Roman Polanski) I understood that I'd added it to my list for the same reason I'm still working my way through Woody Allen's back catalogue – to be a cinema completist.

Unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be, because I really struggle with giving Polanski or Allen any more oxygen as people versus filmmakers, and it's a pleasure to say this), he seems to have let the idea that he's the go-to guy for classy horror movies about demons and Satan go to his head. There is competent direction here, but the script by Polanski and a couple of collaborators feels like a lot of better, more iconic movies and ideas based only on striking imagery were put in a blender and poured onto the page.

Dean Corso (Depp) is an upper class scumbag, a cross between a proper Victorian book collector and a film noir gumshoe as he tracks down and deals in rare books. One of his usual customers, rich and eccentric publisher Balkan (Frank Langella) enlists him to finding a rare text said to have been written by none other than Satan himself.

There are two other copies in the world, Balkan reveals, and tiny differences in the cryptograms and pictures will reveals which one is the authentic original.

Corso travels across the world mixing with an eclectic cast of characters in stately homes and opulent, old world European offices trying to get his hands on the other two copies, or at least see them to make his comparisons. But his apartment has already been ransacked before he's even left home and now the people he meets and deals with in his quest have a nasty habit of turning up dead later on.

Someone either wants the Devil-made tomes more than Corso does or just doesn't want him to succeed, and the reveals are constructed in such a way as to make you wonder if his true adversary is the actual Devil. For a long while it's only intimated that there's something supernatural going on, but it's confirmed in a slightly silly, almost throwaway scene when the girl who seems to have been shadowing him across the world (Emmanuelle Seigner) floats down a stone staircase beside The Seine to save him from an attacker, revealing herself to be an angel (or something).

There are some slightly memorable set pieces here and there but it never feels like it knows where to go. It's overlong, confusing and confused about itself, never really establishing or following its own rules.

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