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The Ninth Configuration Review

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Psychiatrist Kane sent to a mysterious lunatic asylum in an old castle where he is to analyse whether American soldiers sent home from Vietnam are genuine lunatics or fakes. There he finds Captain Cutshaw, an astronaut who aborted his moonshot at the last minute and who denies the existence of God on the grounds that evil exists

★★★★

First impressions would have this re-release as a craven attempt to milk some more mulah out of the recent return of The Exorcist. It'd be a pity if they were trusted, since 1980's The Ninth Configuration, Exorcist author Blatty's directorial debut, is in fact a beguiling, occasionally terrifying, and emotionally moving gem.

Essentially bolting a debate on the existence of God (and thus continuing the essential theme of The Exorcist) to a surrealistic thriller, Configuration has psychiatrist Kane (Keach) sent to a mysterious lunatic asylum in an old castle where he is to analyse whether American soldiers sent home from Vietnam are genuine lunatics or fakes. There he finds Captain Cutshaw (Wilson), an astronaut who aborted his moonshot at the last minute and who denies the existence of God on the grounds that evil exists. Kane declares that the existence of selfless good proves the existence of God and is challenged to produce a single example of which he has personal experience.

If all this sounds a tad on the heavy side that's because it is, and Blatty does himself few favours in the opening 45 minutes, moving what plot there is at a snail's pace. But the drama, when it arrives, is blistering with a truly shocking plot reversal as well as some inspired surreal imagery - the opening title sequence in which a huge moon wheels into view behind the silhouette of an Apollo spacecraft is probably one of the oddest, most inexplicably frightening shots put on film while a shot of a crucifix on the lunar surface nods expertly towards 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are flaws, Keach's zombified performance may steer a little too close to comatose and the whole may irritate depending on your tolerance for protracted debate and Roman Catholic angst. But allowing that, The Ninth Configuration is a fascinating film and its re-release an unexpected treat.

Heavy but fascinating creepy drama, that lacks pace in the first half but has some genuinely thrilling moments

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