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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Gothika
Gothika
Warner Bros. // PG-13 // March 23, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 3, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:


Director Mathieu Kassovitz became more widely known to audiences playing against Audrey Tautou in the French hit "Amelie". He is, however, also a director of remarkable talent, as evidenced in the 1995 drama "La Haine", a masterpiece that followed a group of teens through the Paris ghettos. The black & white drama packed the kind of power and force that few movies I've seen in recent years do, and it remains a favorite of mine (unfortunately, a favorite that's still not available on DVD in the US - and apparently, the VHS of the film is now out-of-print, too.)

So what's he doing here? While the director's richly stylish and haunting horror film "Crimson Rivers" might suggest that he knows his way around the genre, I suppose I didn't expect his English-language debut to be a mainstream horror film produced by Joel Silver. The producer (w/co-producer Robert Zemeckis) is certainly no stranger to horror, having produced one each Halloween for the last couple, including the guilty pleasure "House on Haunted Hill" and the awful "Thirteen Ghosts". With Kassovitz, cinematographer Matthew Libatique ("Requiem For a Dream"), composer John Ottman ("The Usual Suspects") and actors Halle Berry and Robert Downey, Jr., "Gothika" seems like an attempt to class up the annual outing a bit.

Berry plays Miranda Grey, a psychologist in a dark, seemingly ancient prison that seems menacing, and yet eerily beautiful. She works with Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.) and Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton). Grey happens to be her new husband. On a dark night, while thunder rolls overhead (and through the surrounds), Miranda comes to a detour and is forced into another direction. Swerving to miss a girl in the road, she crashes her car. When she checks to see if the girl is alright, the girl bursts into flames.

Then boom, she wakes up, only she's no longer the psychiatrist in the prison, but one of the inmates. She's informed by Pete that she's accused of the murder of her husband, while a fellow inmate (Penelope Cruz, whose soft voice is suprisingly good at suggesting crazy) informs her that no one's going to believe her now. Miranda's not alone, either: a breath fogs up the window of her cell, then writing appears.

"Gothika" is an example of style doing a surprisingly good job at overcoming substance. Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique shoot the film without much light, allowing us to see just the essential details in many scenes. Unlike the prior Halloween entries from producers Silver and Zemeckis, this is a considerably more subtle film that tries very well to create tension and atmosphere. There are certainly boo! scares in "Gothika" from time to time, but the film largely tries to use the environment to create an intimidating feeling of dread. John Ottman's score is delicate, moody and effective. First making an impact with his memorable, timeless score for Bryan Singer's "Usual Suspects", Ottman (who has also worked as an editor and director in the past) is one of the more underrated composers today.

Yet, there's the matter of the screenplay. "Gothika"'s script, by Sebastian Gutierrez (the recent adaptation of Elmore Leonard's "Big Bounce"), comes up with a great creepy idea and keeps us in the dark about where things are headed. When the film tries to head for an ending, the plot holes begin to catch up with it. Although films of the genre are certainly far-fetched, almost as a rule, "Gothika" leaves a lot of questions to be asked. It also turns more conventional in the second half.

The performances are very good, if not the best anyone involved has been. Berry brings a lot of intensity and emotion to her performance, providing a convincing and effective portrayal of a woman stuck in her own nightmare. Downey, Jr. also plays his cards well, keeping the audience unsure of his motives. Supporting efforts are generally quite enjoyable, as well.

Despite its flaws, I liked "Gothika". The film's approach, combined with the magnificently creepy location and enjoyable, adds up to one of the more unsettling genre films I've seen in a while. It's not up to the level of "Rivers", but it reminds me what a talent Kassovitz is. I can't wait to see what he does next.


The DVD

VIDEO: "Gothika" is presented by Warner Brothers in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (a separate pan & scan edition is also available). Although dark, difficult material to transfer well to DVD, this presentation looks extremely good. Despite the dark nature of the film, sharpness and detail are still first-rate, with good clarity and definition consistently visible throughout.

Edge enhancement is barely a factor in the presentation; while it is briefly visible in one or two scenes, it's hardly noticable. Compression artifacts were not seen, nor were any print flaws. The film's ultra-subdued color palette appeared accurately rendered, as well. A terrific effort.

SOUND: "Gothika" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. While the film's soundtrack is not remarkably aggressive, there are moments throughout the picture where the surrounds are used to great effect to heighten the tension with discrete, creepy sound effects such as lights flickering. Audio quality is quite good, as the film's soundtrack presented sound effects, Ottman's score and dialogue with very fine clarity. Bass was strong at times, but never overwhelming.

EXTRAS: Director Mathieu Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique offer a full-length audio commentary. This is a slightly spotty commentary as, while the two manage to offer a lot of insight and information about the production, working with the actors and creating the look of the feature, there's also stretches of silence here-and-there. Despite the occasional patches of silence, I thought this was a fine track that highlighted some very interesting details, such as early on, when the two discuss effects that aren't so obvious.

The only other supplements are the film's theatrical trailer and Limp Bizkit's "Behind Blue Eyes" music video.

Final Thoughts: "Gothika" has its share of plot holes, but the stylish thriller manages to create a very tense atmosphere, look terrific and offer a few solid performances. Warner Brothers has provided a DVD with very good audio/video and a couple of supplements. Recommended.

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