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Gothika  (2003)


Rating: R

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Release Date: March 23, 2004
Review posted: March 17, 2004


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann




A criminal psychologist (Halle Berry) awakens to find herself a patient in the psych ward of the Woodward Penitentiary where she works, with no memory of the murder she's accused of committing. As she tries to regain her memory - and her freedom - a vengeful spirit manipulates her. Meanwhile, a fellow doctor (Robert Downey Jr.), a volatile inmate (Penélope Cruz) and others figure in her harrowing ordeal as she tries to make sense of it all.




Gothika is perhaps the best-looking and best-directed film yet for the Dark Castle production shingle, but that's not saying a whole lot. Let's examine some of the film's bad symptoms. First of all, the script written by Sebastian Gutierrez tries to cross the supernatural with the thriller/horror genre, but it fails considering the lack of originality and intrigue.


This cross produces mixed results. Most scares are enjoyable, but they don't make a lot of sense as they're based on the supernatural factor of the story. So much of the story appears to take place in reality and the supernatural clicks in whenever it wants to. Transitioning between these alternative realities doesn't really work. The results might be entertaining to watch, what with all the different scares, but Gothika seems more inspired by other source material instead of trying to be original.


When Berry's character wakes up in her cell she begins to notice an ominous being or spirit that is trying to scare her when in fact it's trying to help her figure out her predicament. The "spirit" element in the story reminds me of a subplot in The Sixth Sense where Cole meets a little girl who was poisoned by her stepmother. In Gothika, the spirit is a dead girl connected to a suicide case, and every time it shows up Berry's character goes crazy, literally throwing herself against the walls while locked up in solitary.


The script feeds viewers wrong information about the spirit up until the reveal, but by then the story is already somewhat uninteresting. Trying to make sense of the events prior to the stand-off between Berry and the killer won't do any good, because for one thing it's not worth it and secondly it's too confusing. The worst thing about the script is that it doesn't attempt to answer any of its questions or clean up after some of the plot holes. The ending doesn't have a transition to the scene before it and leaves the story pointlessly open-ended.


However, to give credit where it's due, Gothika also features some good moments. Halle Berry seems really invested in her role of a psychiatrist gone semi-insane, kind of a departure from her Oscar-winning portrayal in Monster's Ball. She can scream quite well and despite mirroring a wreck she still looks hot. Well, I guess that depends on the individual's taste for women, yet the filmmakers don't really try to make her look ugly. Supporting performances are good, especially Robert Downey Jr. who delivers a better performance than what his role calls for.


Probably the best thing about Gothika is its visual style. Matthew Libatique, director of photography on films like Requiem For A Dream and Phone Booth, photographs many scenes in cool ways and does an excellent job of making the State Penitentiary look intimidating. Director Mathieu Kassovitz appears to do a nice job in his first American feature, but I hope his next project will be more ambitious where he can actually put his talent to display. In fact, Kassovitz is talking about doing I Am Legend, but that could either be a long way off or never happen at all.




Warner Bros. presents Gothika in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are interestingly subdued and there is a lot of blue in this presentation. Some scenes appear too dark, but the mood of the color blue adds something to the visual experience. Color detail is good and sharpness looks fine. The print is in very good condition as I didn't notice any major concerns with specks or dirt. Grain appears in a few scenes as well, but compression artifacts do not. Black levels and dark tones are deep and consistent. Overall, a very solid transfer by Warner Bros.




Warner Bros. presents Gothika in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Dialogue is clear and easy to understand. Sound effects and John Ottman's (X2: X-Men United) eerie score are nicely reinforced by the surrounds. The presentation packs a few rounds of punch, but a lot of the audio comes from the front speakers. Overall, this is a very nice presentation where surround usage comes in effectively during the right times. Also available is an English Stereo Surround soundtrack as well as a French dub track.




The only substantial extra included, if I may call it that, is the audio commentary by director Mathieu Kassovitz and director of photography Matthew Libatique. The director spends more time discussing the filmmaking process, locations, story elements, working with crew and the actors, especially Halle Berry. Libatique comments more on the technical aspects of the film, such as camera setups, lenses, angles, etc. Both point out various CGI effects in the film and complement others and themselves more than a few times. Overall, this track is just decent and probably could've been a little more interesting.


The other extras include a Limp Bizkit music video and the film's theatrical trailer. For a film that turned a little profit ($59 mill US gross against $40 mill budget), the DVD extras are lacking. A featurette on the special effects or cinematography could've been interesting.


You can select to view the film with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. The 96-minute feature is organized into twenty-six chapters. The disc comes in a snapper case. The film is available separately in widescreen and fullscreen.




Despite a semi-interesting performance by Halle Berry, some good scares, and very cool cinematography, Gothika offers no originality. Video is very solid, audio pretty good, and the extras are lacking. Gothika may not come recommended, but a rental would be a decent choice after you've seen the good films on the video store shelves.




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