For all his power, The Devil isn't exactly the most subtle of supernatural entities. His earthly disguises are embarrassingly flimsy, resorting to obvious monikers like Louis Cyphre, John Milton or Brian El Zebub, while other giveaways (long fingernails, brutal randiness, scripture quoting) are so self-evident that you'll wonder how someone this dumb ever got to run Hell in the first place. So it should come as no surprise, then, that Roman Polanski's latest demonic-flavoured chiller is about as subtle as a white-hot trident up the arse.
While the success of Scream depended on its writer and director knowing that their audience already knew everything about horror movies, the failure of The Ninth Gate is purely down to the fact that Polanski treats his punters as if they'd never even heard of The Omen, Angel Heart or, let's face it, Rosemary's Baby. Consequently, you'll have worked out most of the plot 'revelations' and the ending eons before this diabolically dull wannabe-spookster trundles into the second act. Indeed, the only surprise is that Mr S himself never actually deigns to make a proper personal appearance. Which is a shame, because he'd have probably livened things up.
The nearest you'll get is the eminently bland Emmanuelle Seigner making a hash of her desperate attempts to do 'mysterious' as she shadows Depp on his banal quest. She's got funny eyes - and she can fly! Scary. Then there's Lena Olin's psycho-bitch devil worshipper, with her penchant for silly swords 'n' cloaks summoning rituals, and Frank Langella's sinister, flarey-nostrilled book collector, who breathes down his broker's neck so much that you wonder why he needed to hire anyone in the first place.
At the centre of all this pomp and nonsense stands a faintly amused-looking Depp. Oddly enough, he really seems to be enjoying himself, as if he knows this script is a pretentious mess, but relishes delivering such corny lines as: "I don't believe in the supernatural. I believe in the percentage." Perhaps he mistakenly thought the movie was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek. Or perhaps he's spent a little too much time hamming it up for his mate Tim Burton to know the difference...
Polanski's latest is a sad, dated little movie which packs a predictable plot with as many chiller clichés as it can, but is too long and drably shot for the audience to even draw some adverse enjoyment from it. About as scary as a bout of déjà vu.