Warner Bros. // 2003 // 98 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // December 6th, 2007
"You can't trust someone who thinks you're crazy."
That quote above makes no sense to me yet, in the context of Gothika, a rather shameless derivation of the superior The Ring, it makes perfect sense.
Put differently, this 2003 Halle Berry vehicle wants to convince you that it will make the hairs on the back of your neck prickle with terror yet never makes good on its promise. And, in the end, we realize that the filmmakers here were rather crazy to pitch this package as "a total scream" when it never achieves such heights. So who can you trust?
Briefly, Gothika (whatever that means) tells of psychiatric specialist, Miranda Grey (Berry), who works at the Woodward Penitentiary for criminally insane women. One gloomy night, while driving along a detour from her regular way home, she is startled by a ghostly looking woman standing in the road and swerves out of control to avoid running the apparition down. Miranda awakens several days later to discover she's now an inmate of the penitentiary and, more shockingly, has been accused of murdering her husband (Charles S. Dutton, Secret Window), the man found hacked to pieces. Soon, Miranda is revisited by the ghostly apparition whom she learns was a former inmate of the prison and had been murdered by the prison doctors. Which doctors? Well, that's exactly what Miranda has to find out to clear her name yet, when you're pleading from the wrong side of the penitentiary bars, it's a sure bet no one will believe you.
Sounds like a great set up, doesn't it? Sure does, so why does it ultimately fail to deliver? Presumably, the picture started from an intriguing idea yet was never assigned a proper resolution before the cameras began rolling. How Halle Berry came to sign on to this picture is a mystery to me, but then I've always found her to be unabashedly "opportunistic" when jumping onto the latest Hollywood bandwagon; this time, it was a three-wheeled wagon, though. She can act and there was certainly room for her and capable co-star Robert Downey, Jr. (as penitentiary peer Dr. Pete Graham) to do some fun work here, but all "eerie" with no intent does not a satisfying genre film make. And that is he greatest offense that Gothika commits: it appears to us as all dressed up (eerily atmospheric) with no place to go (woefully illogical). Granted, a tale of this sort can easily be pardoned its lapses of credibility since it exists in the realm of mental instability and within the context of a bona fide nightmare. However, even though our own dreams are often confounding affairs that are so disconnected in their unraveling, that sort of "pass" cannot be given to a genre picture of this sort. Why? Simply put, while our dreams might make little sense to others to whom we explain them, they frequently make perfect sense to ourselves when we filter them through our private experience and belief system. As for this film, it might have had credibility as a strangely disjointed story set in a nightmare world but it never quite explains the final context or connecting points that we need to make sense of it all. Therefore, the film begins with decent setup of a dreadful situation but then hurries along in the final act to deliver shocks and such but never the enlightenment we need to determine if it was all worthwhile. Again, all dressed up but where is it going? Nowhere I want to follow.
So here's Gothika on Blu-ray disc and presented in a 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer that looks reasonably good amid its high-definition peers. The production design is appropriately dark and often tinted in a ghostly bluish glow and, therefore, it fails to wow us with the sort of dimensionality that we enjoy in brightly designed pictures. The black levels are well rendered and shadow detail is properly represented but the overall look of the film sometimes softens the crispness and gives this the look of an upscaled DVD. The audio comes by way of a sub-standard (for the BD format) Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The soundstage is suitable wide and enveloping but it feels as if it really could have excelled if presented in a lossless mix. It's a robust track, nevertheless, although the continual rear-placed "stingers" tend to get tiresome (more the fault of the film itself and not so much of the sound design specifically). Extras on this disc are a porting over of the majority of features previously released on the two-disc special edition DVD. You'll find the very self-congratulatory audio commentary by director Mathieu Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, two featurettes that deliver on-set interviews as well as a look at the fire effects, the Limp Bizkit music video and peek behind the scenes at it's creation, and an excerpt from MTV's Punk'd where a frustrated Halle Berry is denied entrance to the premiere of Gothika (this being the most entertaining element of this disc).
In the end, Gothika might appeal to you if you like your horror stylish yet without solid substance. Berry and Downing, Jr. attempt to deliver reasonable performances yet, when all is said and done, the picture is as forgettable as any other dream we can't make sense of.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary
* Featurette: On the Set of Gothika
* Featurette: Painting with Fire
* MTV Punk'd: Halle Berry
* Limp Bizkit "Behind Blue Eyes" Music Video
* Featurette: The Making of "Behind Blue Eyes"
* "Enter Woodward Penitentiary" Files
* Official Site