Ninth Gate [1999]

Stir of Echoes The only real problem with Stir of Echoes has nothing to do with the movie itself, but with unlucky coincidence. Adapted from a Richard Matheson novel, this film arrived around the same time as The Sixth Sense, and surface similarities made it suffer by cursory comparison and the competing film's phenomenal success. It's a pity, because this one features one of Kevin Bacon's best performances, in a psychological thriller that makes a lot more right moves than wrong ones. Bacon plays a blue-collar guy who laments his ordinary life, only to learn, when his sister-in-law (Ileanna Douglas) hypnotizes him, that he is a "receiver" capable of seeing spirits and split-second glimpses of past and future events. It's a torturous gift to have--especially since his friendly Chicago neighborhood possesses a dark secret--and Bacon plays the role with an appropriate mixture of obsession and internalized torment. Similarity to The Sixth Sense applies only to the basic premise and the character of Bacon's young son. Otherwise, this is more of a hard-edged journey of self-discovery, marital crisis, and recovery, with Bacon's wife (played by the highly underrated Kathryn Erbe) involved in an underdeveloped subplot about a group of people who share Bacon's gift as paranormal "receivers." Furthering his career as a writer-director of intelligent thrillers, David Koepp makes a few missteps in pacing and thematic overkill, but overall Stir of Echoes is a sharp, sensitive thriller that unfolds to reveal a dramatically satisfying solution to its mystery. --Jeff Shannon The Ninth Gate The horror of Roman Polanski is not about spectacle and shock but a goose-pimply sense of evil lurking just outside the frame and hidden behind the faces of slightly unsettling characters. For a while it looks like The Ninth Gate, adapted from the novel The Club Dumas by Arturo PĂ©rez-Reverte, might recapture the beautiful uneasiness of such masterpieces as Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. A calm, almost sleepy Johnny Depp plays cynical, unscrupulous rare-book hunter Dean Corso, who's hired by demonologist Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) to authenticate a rare volume that, legend has it, was cowritten by Lucifer himself. Dean leaves a Gothic looking New York (re-created in Europe by Polanski as a sinister city of shadows) for Portugal and Paris to compare Balkan's volume with the two copies known to be in existence and uncovers a mystery with unholy ramifications. He also finds himself at the center of a conspiracy that involves Balkan, a widow who will stop at nothing to retrieve Balkan's book (Lena Olin, who gleefully bites and claws her way through the part), and a mysterious guardian "angel" (Polanski's wife, Emmanuelle Seigner) who shadows his every step. The Ninth Gate is full of rumbling menace and deliciously unsettling imagery, but Polanski's languorous direction and purposefully vague story render a film that's eerie without every becoming thrilling. It's perpetually on the verge of becoming interesting--right up to its obscure final image. --Sean Axmaker

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