William Peter Blatty may be most famous as the writer of both the original book and screenplay for the pinnacle of possession movies The Exorcist. However many may not know that he also directed features including the psychedelic psychological thriller The Ninth Configuration.
Adapted from his 1978 novel of the same name which was a reworking of one of his previous books the film is a blend of satirical comic farce and dark disturbing human drama set in an experimental government facility inside a converted castle that houses Vietnam soldiers suffering from PTSD.
Investigating into whether the different forms of madness the discharged veterans demonstrate is real or faked the patients of this innovative insane asylum range from the mildly ridiculous to the deeply demented.
Among the inmates Lt. Frankie Reno (The Exorcist’s Jason Miller) adapts Shakespeare for dogs while the disgraced astronaut Capt. Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson who played Hershel Greene in Walking Dead) rants and raves about God and the moon while the staff try to keep everyone under control.
Arriving at the facility as a fresh pair of eyes and ears Col. Kane (The Bourne Legacy Sin City 2’s Stacy Keach) is a calm and peaceful military psychiatrist who has an unorthodox approach in healing the mental scars of his follow soldiers in arms.
Indulging their whims he allows their delusions to become a reality letting them live out their fantasies rather than stopping them all the while discussing life, death and spirituality with Capt. Cutshaw who is extremely wary of this new doctor’s doctrine.
Everything is not what it seems however and soon the line between sanity and madness begins to blur for everyone involved in this twisted and troubling experiment.
Blending Platoon with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Blatty crafts a strange and compelling thriller that is both funny and tragic, riotously silly and unsettlingly serious taking on heavyweight issues such as the existence of God, humanities capacity for evil and ideas of redemption.
An interesting companion piece to The Exorcist with strong theological themes and discussions The Ninth Configuration is also daring in Blatty’s direction employing a surreal style packed full of dream sequences, self-reflective film references and outlandish moments all of which make it a very interesting movie although one not suited to everybody’s tastes.
Filled with great performances especially from Keach, Wilson and Ed Flanders as the doctor assisting Kane along the way The Ninth Configuration is a flawed film as crazy at times as its characters but also an exciting, insightful and poignant movie that will leave you thinking about the big questions.