French director Matthieu Kassovitz' first American film "Gothika" came out in 2003 to quite a few negative reviews. Most of his European films however have received much acclaim and you may actually recognize his face since he has also played small parts in several films including "Birthday Girl", "Munich", "Jakob The Liar" and even played a mugger in "The Fifth Element". "Gothika" is also the first film from Dark Castle Entertainment, a production company started by director Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silver.
The film begins by introducing us to Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) who is working at a state prison for criminally insane women as a psychologist along with Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.) and her husband Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles Dutton). After a traumatic and intense interview with A patient, Chloe Sava (Penelope Cruz), Miranda heads for home that evening during a storm. A road is blocked off, forcing her to take a detour through a tunnel, and after almost running over a mysterious woman standing in the road she ends up crashing her car. She approaches the traumatized woman and offers help and before you know it she is awoken at her place of work, but this time as a patient/prisoner. And she has no memory of anything after approaching the bloodied girl in the middle of the road. It is revealed by her ex-colleague Pete that her husband Doug was found murdered, hacked to pieces with an axe, and that she is being accused of the crime.
From here we follow Miranda's slow descent into the paranoid and terrifying realm of false imprisonment, and to make matters worse, the prison is haunted by the ghost of girl who supposedly committed suicide in the past, Rachel Parsons (Katherine Mackey). The ghost attempts to help Miranda find out the truth behind her demise, but of course no one believes her and everyone thinks she is simply hallucinating, even her attorney doesn't think they can win, even with an insanity plea. Still, against all odds and after several different haunting and terrifying experiences, it becomes clear that Berry is on her own. From here several mysteries unravel before us, mainly did she do it? Is she insane and simply delusional? Did the ghost possess her? Did she die in the car crash and this is all a cinematic purgatory? Is it like an episode of "Scooby Doo" and it is actually one of the other few cast members setting her up?
Luckily the film wraps it all up. I actually think this is an effective enough thriller if you don't go in expecting a classic horror film. What we have is a well directed film with some good performances that sets a very dark mood and can be quite effective. I enjoyed it for what it was, a decent popcorn flick with a few scares. I certainly don't think it deserves the overly negative response it seems to have generated and think if you are in the mood for a forgettable but diverting little thriller, then give this one a chance. And obviously it has an excellent cast and they all do fairly decent performances, particularly Berry and of course Robert Downey Jr.
On the video side of things I was very impressed with this release. Encoded using VC-1 the picture is 1080p and fills the whole screen at 1.85:1 nicely. The movie is quite dark and takes place at Woodland Penitentiary, and it appears they are in the midst of a permanent thunderstorm. Yet, the picture is very sharp and the darks are very well balanced and pitch black to dull grey. This is a standout release and a real challenge to home video since it is very dark and shadowy from beginning to end, but happily it rises to the challenges. The dull color spectrum is represented very well also, and I am impressed with (although the film is obviously derivative) Kassovitz and the way he stylized this film with lighting and using shadow to convey a sense of isolation. This is a wonderful high definition title, if you are a fan of the film, prepare to be impressed.
The audio is also effective, serving up a great-sounding Dolby Digital Plus track. It gives the speakers a real workout and is filled with lots of surround sound action. Bass response is very prominent and pronounced while the music is very effective and comes through very clean. All in all, it fits the tone of the movie quite nicely, although it does go from quiet to loud fairly quick, so be ready for that. The dialogue is always easy to understand and seems to be balanced nicely with the other effects of this film.
The special features are standard fare, but plentiful. This type of film doesn't seem to need a ton of special features, but in this day and age of added value content, it seems like most studios are forced into it. Either way, what you get here is the usual, but what can we expect for such a film? All of the features are presented in full screen standard definition.
The commentary is by Matthew Kassovitz and Director of Photography Matthew Libatique which is kind of dull unless you are a film student. Still, very in depth stuff for people who understand and love the technical side of filmmaking.
'On The Set of Gothika' is about fifteen minutes and is your typical EPK type feature where all of the stars and filmmakers gush how great it was to work with everyone and all that. 'On The Set' is basically a continuation but covers all of the detail involved in filming a dark gothic thriller and all of the challenges involved. It runs about seven minutes.
Limp Bizket has a music video remake of the Who classic 'Behind Blue Eyes" and we also get a twenty minute MTV 'Behind The Video' about the making of it. Truly it is extremely annoying stuff, to be honest. We also have a four minute "Punk'd" segment that includes a prank involving Halle Berry at the premiere of "Gothika". These two features may appeal to some people out there and at least they are different.
We also have interactive features where you can enter Woodward Penitentiary, visit Dr. Grey's office, tour the Psych Ward and review inmate case files. These features always sound more fun than they actually are and are (along with the other features) from the last two disc release of this film. Last up we have the theatrical trailer, a bonus feature I actually enjoy being included on releases, it is in anamorphic widescreen.
So, if you are looking for a semi diverting horror thriller to throw in your HD-DVD player, I may suggest "Gothika" as a rental. Yes, perhaps it is style over substance and maybe the writing is pretty campy, but if you want to turn your brain off for awhile, I might suggest giving it a spin. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and the presentation is top notch.