Nine Lives (2002)

Existentially speaking, it's still crap…

by Adam Miller

Most purchasers of the DVD version of NINE LIVES would be justified in complaining of false advertising. The consumate "presence" (aka socialite aka professional celebrity) Paris Hilton adorns the DVD case in no less than three places and yet makes only a smidgen more than a cameo appearance in the film. So without the Heiress' peculiar delivery of lines like "[Men don't know how] to shop for clothes, apparently" what is one left with to watch?

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A stupid ghost story that makes next-to no sense in the least. A party of nine former college chums have gathered at an old Scottish mansion (inherited by one of the crew) to celebrate a birthday. They all get drunk off (what else) Scotch and flirt with each other before retiring to their seperate quarters. The shit then proceeds to hit the fan when one of the nine (names are irrelevant) goes to wash up in the bathroom, looks into the mirror, and discovers his eyes have been gouged out. Yikes! It was "only" an illusion of course, a trick of the mind, but the young man returns to the mansion's library and finds a book which tells the story of the original owner of this mansion who was either an English loyalist or Scottish rebel (whatever) who had his eyes gouged out for his treachery (or loyalty). Anyhoo, the legends are real and the young man becomes possessed by the ghost (eyes are again gouged out) and he goes about the mansion killing people until he gets killed, but you see whoever kills the possessed person then gets possessed by the ghost him/herself. So there's really no way to actually kill the ghost without killing everyone else. It's like murder chain mail (and just a bit too reminiscent of THE RING's gimmick to be novel).

All that said, this film is not scary in the least. Despite being riddled with horror cliches (one person wanders off alone, another, of course, descends to the "spooky" basement where bad things obviously will and do happen), the film's central philosophical conceit (yeah, I can't believe I'm using that word either) is ruined by a dunce-like directorial choice. Allow me to set the scene…

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Early in the film, two characters have a drunken chat about existentialism. The philosophy is boiled down to the logic that "You can only know what you see." The unseen may or may not be reality. Thus you might watch me place two dice under a cup, but after witnessing that act, you really have no way of knowing if the dice really are under that cup.

Okay, fine, whatever. This little logic game comes up again later in the film when half of the survivors lock themselves in the library (supposedly safe from the ghost) and the other half are trying to get into the library. The in-crowd refuse to let the out-crowd in because they have no way of really knowing if the out-crowd are possessed or not. I guess this could be a suspenseful scene except for one dubious decision on the part of the directors: we see both parties on both sides of the door and know that neither of them are possessed! Thus we have to watch for five minutes as two numbskulls bicker about existensial logic, act frightened/angry, etc. when the viewer knows nothing bad is going to happen! It's like the director so blindly followed his lessons on suture he forgot just what was supposedly scary about the scene in the first place. Hitchcock also famously used doors as portals of suspense, but he wasn't stupid enough to show the audience what was on the other side of the door! Plus the whole debate becomes moot once the possessed ghost realizes what apparently everyone else (but the viewer) forgets: the library is surrounded by glass windows; not the best fortification…

So for the pithy wrap up: Nine lives, sure, but not a single brain among them.

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