"You can't trust someone when they think you're crazy."
Don't you love it when Hollywood just makes up a new word? It looks like a real word, but it's just some random extrapolation of a current buzz word that's created to hopefully draw a little extra interest its way.
So, what the devil is Gothika, and what does it have to with this movie?
Facts of the Case
Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry, Swordfish) is a psychiatrist at the Woodward Penitentiary for Women. She's an intelligent, well-respected, and happily married woman. Currently she's vexed that one of her patients, Chloe (Penélope Cruz, Vanilla Sky), is regressing and embellishing her rape fantasy story.
It's the end of another long day at work, and she's finally going to head home. But it's raining terribly, which has caused a sinkhole to open up on the road she normally travels. The police have blocked the road, and Sheriff Ryan (John Carroll Lynch, Fargo), a longtime friend of the family, directs her to take the back road by the bridge he and her husband fish near. As Miranda crosses the covered bridge and comes out the other side, she's startled to see a young girl standing in the middle of the road. Miranda is barely able to avoid hitting her. She rushes out to see if the girl is okay and is shocked to discover the girl is bruised and apparently abused. Without warning, the girl lunges at Miranda.
Three days later, Miranda awakens at Woodward and finds herself locked in a cell, with no memory of the previous days. To her horror, she realizes she's an inmate, accused of savagely butchering her husband, former boss and warden of Woodward (Charles Dutton, Alien³). Everyone believes her to be guilty, including her former colleague, Pete (Robert Downey Jr., U.S. Marshals), who is now counseling her. Now she must unravel the mystery of what happened to her three days ago. Did she really kill her husband? What happened to that girl she almost ran over?
For two-thirds of this film, I was enjoying myself. Filled with tons of atmosphere, Gothika is a dark, dreary, and macabre tale. Is Miranda crazy? Did she chop up her husband? Why? Who is this girl, and did I really see her burst into flames? All these questions ran through my mind, interrupted by an occasional and semi-honest scare, as I enjoyed some fantastic acting, crisp direction, and enchanting cinematography.
Halle Berry is at her best in this film. I've always had very little respect for her work, and I once even said she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. That was all around the time she won her Oscar for Monster's Ball, and I couldn't believe she had miraculously turned the corner in acting. But she has improved greatly, and her work in this film is top notch. She wonderfully embodies her character, giving it an impressive level of depth. I could easily connect with Dr. Grey, wondering just what was going on. Berry's performance kept me riveted to the story, even when it began to take a wrong turn or two.
Further, director Mathieu Kassovitz (Jakob the Liar), in conjunction with his director of cinematography, Matthew Libatique (Phone Booth), does an impressive job in creating the perfect mood for this film. Gothika is dripping with despair, with cold oozing from every nook and cranny. Sometimes a movie just gets the setting right, and this film is one of them. I found myself constantly taking note of—and appreciating—the brooding atmosphere of the settings. This, combined with Halle's acting, really made me want to be completely satisfied with the movie.
But that didn't happen.
It all unravels during the last third of the film. Very much wanting to be a "scary" movie (according to Kassovitz on the commentary track), Gothika pins itself into a corner, with only a handful of ways to get out. A supernatural suspense film historically only has so many ways it can explain itself—and all of them have been played out many times before. I hoped that it wasn't going to unfold as it appeared it was going to; but, alas, it did. The movie was very creepy and kept me on edge, and I hoped it would find a fresh and innovative way to explain everything. But it didn't, and the failure of the film is the unconvincing and tired ending. If they had found a new path to explore, Gothika would have been such the better film. The impressive and energetic performance by Halle and the great style created by Mathieu and Matthew would not have been overlooked and lost.
Beyond that, there's the sad fact that the movie leaves many huge gaps in the plot. There are just some things that need to be explained that are not. I don't want to ruin the film in case you decide to view it, so I'll try to be vague, but first and foremost I have to wonder why Rachel acts the way she does. Why is she doing this? It seems a very odd way to get your point across to be so…harsh. Also, at the very end, a character goes online and surfs over to Google to find some information. That may not sound too bad here, but in essence it comes across as our character going to www.badguys.com and discovering the answer to all his or her questions. The movie falls apart and loses its integrity at this point.
Reverting back to the dreaded snapper case, Warner gives Gothika a decent treatment. The 1.85:1 anamorphic print is excellent. I could not detect any errors during the presentation, which is very impressive considering the unusual background textures, copious amounts of rain, and abundant use of the color black. The color palette in the film is limited, relying on every shade of gray and black imaginable—all of which are wonderfully captured without any blurring or muddying. Details abound, thanks to excellent sharpness and contrast. As good is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that uses every channel well: dialogue sparkles from the center, abundant bass from the subwoofer, and natural and realistic ambiance from all the surrounds.
The disc is weak in the extras department, with the only true additional item being a commentary track from Kassovitz and Libatique. The two seem at times to have a bit of animus toward one another, but it is fleeting. Their track is highly skewed to talking about the sets, lighting, photography, and other technical matters with nary a good tale about the actors or other interesting tidbits from the personal side of the aisle. Also included on the disc are a music video and the theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I'm sorry, Mathieu, but Gothika is not a scary movie. You crafted a film with an excellent atmosphere of dread, but that's it. Yes, I jumped once or twice, but mostly from those silly old Hollywood tricks you love to pull out.
And, was it your idea to cast Charles Dutton and Halle Barry as husband and wife? Again, I'm sorry, but I just cannot picture those two as a couple. She's way too hot for him. And then the scene where they kiss…Dutton was about an inch away from completely swallowing her entire head. Now that's scary!
I asked earlier what Gothika means and what it has to do with this movie. Fortunately the commentary track actually touches on this issue and presents an answer: the movie has nothing to do with "gothic" except that Woodward is based on gothic architecture. That's a stretch. But the word is so cool!
The film itself does have some great moments, with a surprisingly inspired performance by Halle Berry. I enjoyed the performance, I enjoyed the atmosphere, and I almost enjoyed Gothika because of it. But because the ending skirts clichéd territory, I'm not going to recommend this one for purchase; however, as a rental, you'll definitely get an evening's worth. On some dark and rainy night, it would be perfect for a spin.
Gothika is hereby found guilty of taking an interesting story and letting it fall into unoriginal territory. All parties are sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary with Director Mathieu Kassovitz and Director of Photography Matthew Libatique
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