Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) is a psychiatrist at an insane asylum for women. One night, after dismissing the claims of one inmate, Chloe (Penélope Cruz), that she was raped by the Devil, she heads home to her husband, fellow psychiatrist Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton). On the way home through a thunderstorm, she is forced to make a detour and comes across a young, half-naked woman standing in the middle of the road. Miranda rushes to help her, but the young woman spontaneously combusts. Miranda loses conciousness, and when she wakes up she finds herself locked in a cell in her own asylum, accused of brutally murdering her husband. Miranda now finds herself on the other side of the glass, dismissed as crazy by her former colleagues in the same way that she previously dismissed Chloe's ramblings as insanity. Worse still, the forced that caused Miranda's black-out and subsequent memory loss is still haunting her, and takes great delight in subjecting her to terrifying nightmares and various physical assaults. The race is on for Miranda to figure out what's going on and clear her name before it's too late.
While most people are probably not familiar with the name of Mathieu Kassovitz, I expect it's fair to say that a fair number of people noticed him as the love interest in the excellent Amelie, even if his name means nothing to them. Even fewer people will, I assume, be aware that, in addition to his acting, he has also made a name for himself as a writer/director. Gothika places him in the director's chair but leaves the writing duties to others, giving him little opportunity to influence the actual storyline. This is a shame, because many who are familiar with his work speak very highly of him. His first American project, Gothika sees the Frenchman uprooted from his more arty origins and placed in the world of mainstream American horror, helming a project devised in the Dark Castle stable, a production company notorious for creating limp remakes (sorry, reimaginings) of 60s B-movie horror. The studio's first completely original work, Gothika on paper has a lot going for it, despite the dubious production banner: a talented director, competent actors and a plot built around the age-old fear of people believing you to be crazy.
Unfortunately, it becomes clear pretty quickly that Gothika is all style and no substance. The film is moodily lit (although the fact that virtually every scene is shot through a muddy blue-grey filter gets old pretty fast), and Kassovitz throws weird imagery and false scares at the viewer right, left and centre, but ultimately this cannot cover up the fact that the plot is wafer-thin. Characters are undeveloped and come across merely as archetypes rather than real people. Beyond that, you also have to contend with the fact that there are way too many convenient coincidences and ludicrous decisions on display. We are asked to swallow not only the fact that Miranda would be locked up in the same insane asylum that she used to work in - among all her former patients - but also that the damage done to her by the ghost is consistently passed off as self-mutilation (the orderlies always conveniently look away or are not around at the appropriate moments). The middle portion of the movie comes across as padding of the worst possible order, as if writer Sebastian Gutierrez was simply filling pages to make sure the screenplay came to a certain length.
One also has to contend with Halle Berry's hysterical and overdone performance. I think that she is vastly overrated as an actor, and here she seems to be capable of only two emotions: calm and crazy. Watching "crazy" gets more than a little tiring after a while, and is not helped by the jumpy MTV-style editing Kassovitz foolishly chooses to employ. Elsewhere, the other actors do their best with the vapid material, but despite good performances overall, especially from Penélope Cruz and Bernard Hill, they can do little to prop up their badly-drawn characters.
Ultimately, Gothika, like the rest of Dark Castle's line-up, is a lacklustre, unimaginative piece of work. The acting talent is there, more or less, and the production values are high, resulting in a glossy and professional-looking film, but there's no substance to back it up. While the concept of a studio established for the sole purpose of remaking old films is depressing enough, it seems pretty clear that, if Gothika is representative of their original material as a whole, they should probably stick to ripping off (sorry, updating) 60s B-movie cheese.
By the way, could someone please explain the title to me? It seems to have nothing to do with the film itself.
Gothika is given a fairly pleasing anamorphic transfer, preserving the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. It's a little soft and prone to edge enhancement, the blacks are a bit too grey, and there are a handful of compression artefacts, but none of these detract from the film too substantially. None of these flaws are present to excess, but this is very much a second-tier transfer.
The film is given a pumping Dolby Digital 5.1 track with strong bass and good use of directional effects in the rears, especially during the film's many thunderstorms, and the frequent "boo!" moments. There really is little to say in this area: this is simply an enveloping, technically strong track with no major faults.
This R2 release includes significantly more in the way of bonus material than the currently available US, although a 2-disc special edition is on the way on the other side of the Atlantic that will include all the features present on this disc.
Commentary - Director Mathieu Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique team up to provide a fairly dry commentary, mostly technical in nature but with a few anecdotes about story problems and the challenges the script presented them with in terms of quickly establishing characters.
"On the set of Gothika" featurette - This fairly standard "go see the movie" featurette compresses the storyline, main cast and crew into 16 minutes in a reasonably effective manner, with a healthy amount of back-patting and butt-kissing along the way. That said, I always question the point of including featurettes like this on the DVD, since they essentially tell you nothing that could not be garnered from watching the film itself and listening to the commentary.
"Painting with fire" featurette - The short but sweet 7-minute featurette briefly covers a number of the special effects shots in the film, including some interesting demonstrations of the different layers and processes applied to each example.
"Making of the music video" featurette - An utterly pointless 19-minute look at the utterly pointless music video featured elsewhere on the disc.
Patient interviews and notes - This neat feature includes "interviews", drawings and "doctor's notes" for three different patients. The interviews are rather interesting mock-ups of pyschiatry sessions with the various crazy people, with each running for slightly under three minutes. The doctor's notes, narrated by Bernard Hill, are relatively brief but make for interesting listening.
A banal music video and a rather effective trailer are also included, along with bonus trailers for Spider-man 2, Hellboy, Secret Window, Big Fish, The Missing, Identity, Panic Room and Thir13en Ghosts.
This below-average horror movie is presented on a reasonably good disc, with a solid but not outstanding transfer, a powerful audio mix and some relatively interesting extras. It would also appear that this single-disc UK release includes exactly the same bonus materials as the 2-disc US special edition, due for release on 12 October.
Gothika is released in the UK on 16 August 2004.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:18:31