Warner Bros. // 2004 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 12th, 2008
Because someone is dead doesn't mean they're gone.
Halle Berry's 2003 ghost story finds a new haunting ground on HD DVD. Is a slick new video and audio presentation enough to scare you into checking out this half-baked spook story?
Berry (X-Men) plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a brilliant psychologist is in the middle of a sweet career at the Woodward Penitentiary for Women, diagnosing head cases, one of whom is a tortured woman (Penelope Cruz) besieged by nightmarish visions. Dr. Grey is amazed at the intricacies of the psychosis, but never thinks there's anything supernatural going on, despite the woman's ravings.
That all changes one rainy night when Grey encounters a ghostly apparition of a girl standing in the middle of a rain-soaked road. The girl works a wacky mojo on her and the next thing she knows, Dr. Grey is an inmate in the penitentiary, being held for the gruesome murder of her husband.
But there's more to the crime than simple dementia and Dr. Grey will turn to the spirit world for a path to the truth.
I hate the expression "meh" with much passion, so I'll steer clear of using it as a way to sum up my reaction to this mediocre supernatural thriller. So how about "ga." Or "erm." Maybe "blup." Perhaps you could just fill in a slang word of your liking that means "this experience was forgettable and disposable from beginning to end."
That's Gothika, a mystery that is all style and little else. It's a mundane psychological supernatural romp starring some big names and boasting more advanced visual effects work than the typical straight-to-DVD J-horror regurgitation but substance-wise there is nothing to distinguish it from the endless parade of its hack brethren.
There's plenty of build-up and creepy music and there's a sense of suspense, but the tension rings hollow. Pacing drags and when the supposedly tense stuff does hit -- an extended sequence features Berry's character attempting to escape from the prison -- it's underwhelming stuff.
Among these clumsy thriller bits lies plenty of runtime padding and cheap scare tactics. The buildup to the predictable jump scares is often drawn out and sometimes unfulfilled, making the protracted shock scenes a thoroughly unsatisfying dry hump.
The filmmakers work from the Trendy PG-13 Horror Film Playbook, relying on the go-to plot device of the Creepy Little Girl That Moves Weirdly to generate the most scares. A young blonde Creepy Little Girl That Moves Weirdly pinch-hits for the usual Japanese Creepy Girl That Moves Weirdly but rest assured, she's creepy and moves weirdly. Whether or not you'll be freaked out by this rests entirely on the level of experience you have with creepy little girls in movies. Me, I've seen my share, so Gothika held very little punch.
There is a twist, and it's not a bad one, but the trek to get to it was so tedious it took away from the enjoyment. Then, in the last 15 minutes, the whole thing backslides with a ludicrous face-off between the bad guy and Dr. Grey, culminating in the worst use of CGI fire ever.
The film was a letdown, but Warner Brothers continues its strong track record of supplying well-done high-definition releases. Gothika looks spiffy in its new 1080p transfer (1.85:1). While not a total stunner, the renovated video quality is sharp throughout. The film retains a battleship gray color tone for the majority of the runtime and this palette does little to show off the kind of colors HD can push, but interludes outside of the prison bring the sweetness. No TrueHD track for this one, but the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1is aggressive.
Extras include a commentary from director Mathieu Kassovitz and director of photography Matthew Libatique and two featurettes, a promo-style making-of documentary and a segment about the visual effects. A bunch of meta-narrative extras -- case files, patient interviews, psych ward virtual tours -- would be a lot more interesting if the film was more compelling. It goes downhill from there, with an excerpt from Punk'd, a Limp Bizkit video and the making of the Limp Bizkit video. Ouch.
Gothika's lame, but it looks and sound good in its HD rebirth. The extras disappoint.
Hit this one with some Ecto Cooler.
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; 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 Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Making-of Documentary
* Visual Effects Feature
* Case Notes
* Virtual Tour of Psych Ward
* Inmate Interviews
* Halle Berry on Punk'd
* Music Video
* Making-of the music Video