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The Ninth Gate (1999)

tomatometer

41

Average Rating: 5/10
Reviews Counted: 87
Fresh: 36 | Rotten: 51

Even though the film is stylish and atmospheric, critics say The Ninth Gate meanders aimlessly and is often ludicrous. And despite the advertising, there's hardly any chills.

24

Average Rating: 4/10
Critic Reviews: 25
Fresh: 6 | Rotten: 19

Even though the film is stylish and atmospheric, critics say The Ninth Gate meanders aimlessly and is often ludicrous. And despite the advertising, there's hardly any chills.

audience

58

liked it
Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 120,754

My Rating

Movie Info

Dean Corso is highly skilled at his work, a position which requires dexterity, cultural expertise, nerves of steel...and few scruples. Known for locating rare books for wealthy collectors, Corso is hired by eminent book-lover and scholar of demonology, Boris Balkan. Corso's mission: to find the last two volumes of the legendary manual of satanic invocation "The Nine Gates of the Shadow Kingdom," compare them with Balkan's first volume, supposedly the only one of its kind, and ascertain the

Jul 18, 2000

Artisan Entertainment - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (110) | Top Critics (30) | Fresh (36) | Rotten (51) | DVD (25)

Watching The Ninth Gate is like being force-marched through dank rooms piled high with musty books, led by drab tour guides who mutter the same pedantic points over and over.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic IconTop Critic

I kept hoping Polanski would take the plot by the neck and shake life into it, but no.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Elegant, scary fun.

January 1, 2000
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The self-immolating and oblivion-bound Ninth Gate is the kind of film that's going to give satanic cults a bad name.

January 1, 2000
Boston Globe
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Polanski revisits Satan with less than devilish fun.

September 14, 2012 Full Review Source: indieWIRE
indieWIRE

...it ultimately does go without saying that Polanski's fans will find more to embrace here than his detractors.

July 10, 2011 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
Reel Film Reviews

Johnny Depp refuses to comment on Roman Polanski's supernatural thriller, and who can blame him?

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: TheMovieReport.com
TheMovieReport.com

Sorely underrated...wisely counter-cultural to Hollywood's idea of what a supernatural thriller should be. [Blu-ray]

August 17, 2009 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

Sometimes dry, sometimes wacky, but surprisingly compelling throughout.

May 13, 2007 Full Review Source: DVDTalk.com
DVDTalk.com

At least the action is moved by earthbound dementia rather than by the power of a divinity.

October 29, 2004
Cinema Signals

The Ninth Gate est un énième film sous-évalué qui mérite davantage d'attention et de reconnaissance.

October 7, 2004

The first hour of the picture is sublime.

June 5, 2003 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

The material remains too trifling and ultimately ludricrous to justify the care that's gone into the production.

September 9, 2002 Full Review Source: Film Journal International
Film Journal International

Artfully constructed and deliberately paced, making up for the many ludicrous twists and turns it takes.

March 7, 2002 Full Review Source: Matinee Magazine
Matinee Magazine

Depp trudges through gamely, but I sensed that he knew how silly the whole movie was, and didn't really commit to it.

February 28, 2002 Full Review Source: Goatdog's Movies
Goatdog's Movies

a solid, engrossing supernatural mystery-thriller that comes completely undone in the last five minutes

February 27, 2001 Full Review Source: Q Network Film Desk
Q Network Film Desk

Suspenseless and fairly ludicrous.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

A total washout when reaches its laughably hackneyed, fire -and- brimstone ritual finale.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: SPLICEDWire
SPLICEDWire

This supernatural mystery is an uneventful, drawn-out, and colossally disappointing return to the screen for the once-compelling director.

January 1, 2000
Reel.com

This film essentially paints itself into a corner from which it can't maneuver to deliver a satisfying ending.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Screen It!
Screen It!

Painful to watch The Ninth Gate's meticulous tone and rhythms go for naught in its final half-hour.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: culturevulture.net
culturevulture.net

[Goes] on too long and has too many endings.

January 1, 2000
St. Paul Pioneer Press

A supernatural thriller that can put you to sleep with its plodding pacing is not exactly a recipe for success.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Internet Reviews
Internet Reviews

Audience Reviews for The Ninth Gate

Boris Balkan: You read from this book, but you have no conception of its true power. I alone have grapsed its secret, I alone have fathomed the master's grand design, I alone am worthy to enjoy the fruits of that discovery: absolute power to determine my own destiny!

"Leave the Unknown Alone"

The Ninth Gate is a very intriguing, compelling, and all around entertaining film from Roman Polanski. Polanski is a director I have meant to start watching more of. Before viewing this I had only seen Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, and The Pianist, all of which were masterpieces in their own rights. The Ninth Gate isn't quite that good, but is a great story to see Polanski in years and years after Rosemary's Baby. This film is drenched in the occult, devil worshipping, references to secret orders of celebrity and political persons(Illuminati). It's a mystical film for sure.

Dean Corso is an expert on rare books. He gets a job working for a guy named Balkan who has a very rare and weird collection of priceless books. One of which is The Nine Gates..., which is supposedly a book inscribed from a book that the devil wrote himself. Corso is supposed to track down the only two other surviving books and make sure Balkan's is authentic and see if the others are as well. It doesn't end up being a standard job though, as a lot of weird things begin happening to Dean along his journey.

Say what you will about Roman Polanski, but he is a hell of a filmmaker. Although, The Ninth Gate isn't a masterpiece and you could probably poke holes through the story all day if you wanted too; it's still an extremely fun and absorbing movie. It's made in a really old style much like Rosemary's Baby, so although this was made in 1999 starring Johnny Depp, it looks and feels like it should have been made back in the 70's. 

This really is worth the watch. The movie has great pacing and there's a lot of questions it brings up. Some of which are answered, some are kind of left up in the air and to the audience. I really did enjoy The Ninth Gate. It's not Polanski at the top of his craft, but it is still Polanski and it's still pretty brilliant.
January 18, 2014
blkbomb
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

Returning to territory he mined with Rosemary's Baby, this is Roman Polanski's second take on Satanic shenanigans.

Johnny Depp stars as Dean Corso, an unscrupulous rare book dealer who often takes on jobs from very wealthy bibliophiles. His latest job sees him having to track down and authenticate three copies of a book said to be able to conjure the Devil himself. Well, given the type of book he's after, it's long before he gets caught up in all sorts of mystery, intrigue, and death.

I feel like what I'm about to say applies to most anything, but this really had potential to be good. Besides going back to the Satanic side of the supernatural, the film is a revisit to Polanski's Chinatown in a way, as things play out as a sort of homage/riff on hard boiled film noir.

Unfortunately, the film is fairly long, mostly uneventful, and pretty lackluster. It's almost boring in a way I didn't figure a Johnny Depp film could be. It has its moments, but it's largely dull and rathert disappointing.

The locations are at least nice, the film is well shot, and the cast, especially Depp, Frank Langella, and Emmanuelle Seigner try their best. They aren't able to salvage things, but it could have probably somehow been worse.

If you're just really curious or a completist, then yeah, see it, but for everyone else, just skip right on by.
May 18, 2013
cosmo313
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

With the notable exception of Se7en, numerical horror-thrillers are utter rubbish. With their ridiculous twists, over-the-top acting and an overreliance on special effects, they epitomise all that is banal and disappointing about these two genres. You would think that Roman Polanski, the man who gave us Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby, would be able to handle such well-worn material in at least a workable manner. But instead we end up with a ripe old stinker every bit as disappointing as Prince of Darkness.

Polanski has always been a fan of absurdist, quirky comedy, being greatly influenced by France's crown prince of absurdity, Eugene Ionesco. While absurdity in and of itself is no bad thing, Polanski has always been at his best when this aspect of his sensibility has been minimised, or at least properly accommodated. You have to admire him for being able to switch between bleak, serious works like Tess and The Pianist, and something more fun and frothy like Frantic. But his out-and-out exercises in comedy have dated very badly, with What? being the worst example.

Further doubts are raised by Polanski's attitude towards the source material. When interviewed in 1999 he said that he didn't believe in the supernatural - something you would never have guessed from Rosemary's Baby. He was drawn to the novel El Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte because it was an opportunity to play with the clichés of a genre that he enjoyed. The consequence is that we aren't sure how seriously Polanski is taking things, and therefore how seriously we should be taking him.

The Ninth Gate starts off quite atmospherically, with good pacing, dusty books and nice gothic colours. Film noir touches are evident throughout, from the archetype of the downbeat detective (or "book detective" in this case) to the enigmatic women in his life. Like so many noirs or Hitchcock films, the blond is enigmatic but for the most part on the hero's side, while the brunette is seductive and passionate to the point of being pure evil.

Having set things up quite nicely in the first ten minutes, The Ninth Gate starts to crumble as more and more ridiculous elements encroach. We might swallow the story about the three copies of The Nine Gates, if only because Frank Langella sounds authoritative as he wades through exposition. But subsequent developments are so clouded or convoluted that we quickly give up trying to figure it all out, insofar as there is anything to figure out. It feels like the sort of thing that Polanski could have done in his sleep - and for much of the film, he might as well have done.

All the big plot points in The Ninth Gate can be anticipated because they borrow all too heavily from better genre efforts. Having Dean Corso commissioned to search for The Nine Gates is exactly the same set-up as Angel Heart, but with a book instead of a jazz musician. His infiltration of a secret ceremony is lifted from The Wicker Man, and the mansion scenes strongly resemble Eyes Wide Shut, although this may be coincidental. There are also very standard references to The Omen in the use of 666, for instance, The NINE Gates being published in 1666. There is even a nod to An American Werewolf in London, as Corso arrives at the castle in a truck full of sheep.

Having given up on taking The Ninth Gate seriously, the next logical step is to try and enjoy it as a comedy, perhaps as an unintentional one. But the comedic elements are so completely at odds with Polanski's execution of the twists that they feel like they have escaped from a different film. The twin brothers, who are played by the same actor via split screen, bumble their way through their lines like a cross between Thomson and Thompson from Tintin and Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part.

The silliness of the supporting characters increases as the film moves on. Baroness Kessler, played by Barbara Jefford, is introduced as a formidable character of real threat to Dean Corso - who then slips almost immediately into pantomime villain mode when we discover that she only has one hand. Corso later finds her slumped in her motorised wheelchair having been strangled: he turns the wheelchair around, only for her to go careering through the double doors, like Mason Verger's death in Hannibal two years later.

Like many numerical thrillers, The Ninth Gate suffers from dodgy special effects. It's hardly a dull car crash like End of Days, in which Gabriel Byrne demonstrates his demonic power by blowing everything up, and Arnold Schwarzenegger try to stop him with a grenade launcher. But alongside bad continuity and an unconvincingly burnt book, there are at least two examples of dodgy wire work, in which Emmanuelle Seigner floats down into a scene, without any prior clue that she could fly.

The Ninth Gate is littered with irritating plot holes which leaving us scratching our heads even in the moments when generic convention could fill in the gaps. There is no explanation of the serpent tattoo on the brunette's back, nor of Boris Balkan's ability to know exactly where Corso is at any one time - which is, conveniently, always within reach of a phone. But more annoying than either of these is Polanski's contempt for the subject matter. It's hard to believe that either Corso or Balkan know or care so much about rare tomes when they treat them so carelessly. They don't bother to handle them with gloves, flip through ancient pages like they were airport paperbacks and carry them around in scruffy bags which get flung everywhere.

This care-free attitude spills over into the performances. Johnny Depp had wanted to work with Polanski for some time, but Polanski didn't tell him that he wasn't giving the performance that he wanted - in other words, he was almost completely undirected in the role. To be fair to Depp, he gets the physical stuff right, modelling himself on Raymond Chandler and being more convincing than he is in Secret Window. But otherwise it's pretty phoned-in, with Polanski being unable or unwilling to tease out the greatness that Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam had managed.

Frank Langella is no stranger to trashy villains, having played Skeletor in the awful He-Man movie, Masters of the Universe. He does the best with a surprisingly underwritten role, looking a little bit like Michael Redgrave in The Dambusters. Lena Orin has far too little to do beyond flashing her stocking tops in the first half-hour and then dressing up like the actress from Scottish Widows for the satanic ceremony. As for Seigner, she does a good demon stare, but otherwise she's too airy-fairy, wafting through the scenery as if she doesn't really care who she's playing or what she's doing. In any case, it's essentially the same character she plays in Frantic - the quirky outsider who helps the male protagonist, only this time she's the devil as well.

The final nail in The Ninth Gate's coffin comes with its ending, which is hopelessly dragged out and completely incoherent. We get to see Langella self-immolate and fail to pass through the Ninth Gate - but that's not the end. Seigner makes love to Depp against the flames with her demon eyes, the camera zooms in on Depp as if he realises who she is all along, and he seems about to scream - but that's not the end. After the two drive back, and Seigner remarks "is that it?" (to which the answer is "no"), Depp goes back to the bookshop and finds the missing page - but that's not the end. Depp then goes back to the castle and the screen fades to white, in one of the most shambolic and unsatisfying endings in 1990s cinema.

The Ninth Gate is an example of what happens when a great director indulges themself to the extent that they no longer feel the need to try. As an exercise in supernatural horror it is every bit as rubbish as Prince of Darkness: Polanski's film looks better, but Carpenter's was shorter. In attempting to put his stamp on overly familiar elements, Polanski fails to deliver chills, thrills or knowing laughs. Thank God that he redeemed himself beyond all recognition just three short years later.
October 28, 2011
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate is an average supernatural/psychological horror film that has a pretty impressive cast. The Ninth Gate has a great concept, however the film does leave a bit disappointed by the films conclusion. What's really disappointing is that the film has such an engaging premise for the story; however the film takes too long to get to the point, and at times the film feels rushed as if the director doesn't know how to properly execute the ideas thrown before the audience. The Ninth Gate is still a good film; however it could have been much better than this. Not saying that The Ninth Gate is a bad, but there is definite room for improvement. The film takes far too long to get to the point, and it's frankly a bit too slow. But the pacing of the film is somewhat necessary to establish the plot that director Roman Polanski presents to the viewer. Sure it's long, but in the end there is a fairly good ending here, nothing remarkable, but good. The cast here make this film watchable and they deliver good performances. Despite the films flaws, The Ninth Gate is pretty good film that despite the fact that many people don't like, it's not as bad as what many people have claimed to be. However compared to Polanski's horror masterwork, Rosemary's Baby, this film doesn't even come close. The Ninth Gate has a very good concept for a horror film, and it succeeds at entertaining, however there is much to be desired from the end result.
October 15, 2011
TheDudeLebowski65
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

    1. Dean Corso: Come to think of it, I'm not even sure I trust you.
    2. Rodero Bernie: You know I wouldn't screw you unless there was a good reason: money, women, business. Other than that, you can relax.
    – Submitted by Mike B (16 months ago)
    1. The Girl: I like books.
    – Submitted by Mike B (16 months ago)
    1. Liana Telfer: Don't fuck with me!
    2. Dean Corso: I thought I already did.
    – Submitted by Mike B (17 months ago)
    1. Boris Balkan: You read from this book, but you have no conception of its true power. I alone have grapsed its secret, I alone have fathomed the master's grand design, I alone am worthy to enjoy the fruits of that discovery: absolute power to determine my own destiny!
    – Submitted by Alexei G (2 years ago)
    1. Rodero Bernie: He said you queered his pitch.
    2. Dean Corso: Well, he should've been quicker off the mark.
    – Submitted by Tim R (2 years ago)
    1. The Girl: If you say...
    – Submitted by Tim R (2 years ago)
View all quotes (8)

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