Gothika
R4 - Australia - Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (18th November 2004).
The Film

French actor Mathieu Kassovitz has been making a name for himself as a director with such films as La Haine (aka Hate) and the more recent The Crimson Rivers. Based in his native France he's managed to establish himself as a respected actor and filmmaker, which of course caught the eye of Hollywood. In Gothika, his first English language film Kassovitz takes a second spin at thriller filmmaking after The Crimson Rivers, taking with him an impressive cast that include Academy Award winning actress and over-exposed make-up commercial queen Halle Berry, the immensely talented and yet always in trouble with the law Robert Downey Jr., the beautiful and engaging (although not so beautiful in this film) Penelope Cruz.
Gothika tells the story of Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry), a dedicated and hard working criminal psychologist who after a late night at work drives home only to encounter a young wounded woman on the road, this somewhat paranormal encounter results in Dr. Grey waking up and realising she is a patient in her own metal hospital accused of the brutal murder of her husband (Charles S. Dutton), a murder she can hardly remember. Everyone she has come to know in her previous life don't believe in her anymore and after confiding that she is plagued by the presence of the girl she encountered on the street, her colleagues rightly think she's gone insane. But with the help of friend Peter Graham (Downey Jr.) and fellow inmate Chloe (Cruz), Dr. Grey struggles to reclaim her sanity. Only the words Not Alone left by the presence of this girl will help Dr. Grey remember what happened that night and most importantly the mystery of who this young girl is and why she chose her to unravel the mystery.
In a sentence, Gothika is a paint by numbers thriller that doesn't really add anything new to the genre but is certainly a good rainy day piece of entertainment. The problem with this film is that for the first half of the film we can clearly see a build up of suspense and mood setting up the style and feel of the film, not only are we introduced to the characters but to the visual elements that make this film interesting to watch. Kassovitz is very talented in building up the atmosphere, as so demonstrated in his previous film The Crimson Rivers. He adds a level of intelligence to the way the story is set up through the characters interaction and also through visual clues that are a nice touch. However all that work unravels once the film reaches it halfway point where Dr. Grey is now an inmate and the film resorts to cheap scares and 'very been there done that' elements in terms of the suspense factors, such as the quick cuts set to stabbing like musical cues and the occasional lingering music that almost always gives away anything remotely scary that's about to happen. These are only minor things that let this film down, the major let down is the script itself that seems to include gigantic leaps of logic throughout the second and third acts, some aspects, which for reasons of spoiling the ending I will not go into in detail seem like they exists solely for providing an easy out for the heroine disguised as action or suspense sequences, this is just plain lazy, which makes you wonder how the producers managed to wrangle such a great cast? On the upside Kassovitz handles direction better than storytelling as the performances are no less than great, which saves this film from falling totally flat on its face. Berry's turn as the once psychologist turned murdering psycho is quite convincing, and the scenes shared with Cruz are just as compelling to watch, equally Downey Jr. is on top form yet again, honestly is there a single movie of late where this guy hasn't been short of excellent?
Gothika is certainly not be the be all and end all of thriller genre filmmaking, this is a film that demonstrates fine performances all around but is unfortunately marred by a sloppy script.

Video

Presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 this anamorphic transfer is what you'd expect from a new release, top notch. As most of this film is quite dark, many scenes take places at night and the overall colour palate is also heavy on the blacks and blues detail is sharp, blacks are bold and shadow detail is immaculate. I detected no instances of grain or artefacts of any kind, simply put this transfer is perfect.

Audio

This film features two audio tracks an English and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. I found Dialogue to be clear and distortion free, surrounds such as effects, music and environmental elements such as rain are evident and well placed. This mix employs excellent use of the 5.1 separation. The music is wonderfully rendered on this track and never feels out of place or gets in the way of the dialogue. Columbia has provided a high quality surround track to accompany their near reference quality transfer.
This film also features optional subtitles in English, Greek and Italian.

Extras

The first extra we have is a feature-length audio commentary by the director Mathieu Kassovitz and the director of photography Matthew Libatique. I found this commentary to be very interesting the two seem to cover just about everything you'd like to know about the production ranging from the cast and crew that contributed, the use of locations in Canada as well as the techniques both physical locations and set CGI set extensions used to create the facility for the criminally insane. They also discuss the cinematographic style of the film and the reasoning behind the chosen look of the film. Although the track is packed with information the two participants periodically remain quiet during some parts of the film, aside from this the commentary is generally quite good.

Up next we have a series of 4 featurettes, the first of which is entitled On the Set of Gothika running at 16 minutes 9 seconds this is a standard EPK style featurette incorporating sound bites from the various cast and crew members edited with the occasional piece of behind-the-scenes footage. The Featurette also delves into some of the CGI effects used to extend sets and the fire sequences. The featurette provides a minimum amount of information but just enough for the viewer to get the picture. I found that some of the topics in this featurette are covered in greater detail in the commentary.

Following that we have Painting with Fire featurette running at 7 minutes 5 seconds this short piece examines the fire effects in more detail with some of the technical crew. They discuss the difficulties in creating realistic fire effect and breakdown the two main sequences in the film where these effects are employed, although quite short this featurette manages to provide a general understanding of the complexities and challenges of creating these shots.

Next up is the Making of the Music Video featurette running at 19 minutes 18 seconds, this piece takes us behind-the-scenes of the Limp Bizkit music video for the film's soundtrack, a cover of The Who's Behind Blue Eyes, basically you get exactly what the title suggest, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the video plus the actual video at the end of the featurette (interesting choice since the video is also included separately among the extras). This is an extra not seen too often on DVD releases, well to begin with the song isn't that groundbreaking (this version anyway) and the video is a straight forward metaphor for what the movie is about, with the exception of Fred getting his rocks off with Halle, which I assume was all Fred's idea, after all he was the director. But this still begs the question why is this extra necessary? Well if you've ever watched this video and said to yourself, wow I wish I knew how they did that, well herein lies your answer.

The last and final featurette entitled Patients is broken down into three segments for three different patients, the segments include interviews, drawings with narration of dialogue from their interview sessions and doctor's notes with narration. These are fictional patients supposedly from the film so don't expect any real life stuff here. The patients include Candice Burns, Wanda Clinton and Jeanne Howard.

Next we have the Behind Blue Eyes music video by Limp Bizkit, again.

The film's theatrical trailer is also included as well as bonus trailers for Spiderman 2, Hellboy, Secret Window, Big Fish, The Missing, Identity, Panic Room and Thirteen Ghosts all of which are anamorphically enhanced.

Overall

Gothika is a competent thriller with some very cool and slick stylistic elements that make up the production, Unfortunately the sloppy script and predictable ending spoil what could have been a really great film. If only the film was as good as the technical quality of this release, this DVD includes a reference quality audio and visual transfer, and a decent amount of extras, the commentary is certainly the highlight of the extras package.

The Film: C Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B- Overall: C+

 


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