Review Date: November 6, 2004
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/12/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Horror has always been a genre known for its unpredictability. More than any other genre, the market for horror films is characterized by sprawling successes that seem to come out of nowhere. Industry speculation could never predict the breakout successes of films like The Blair Witch Project
, or The Evil Dead
like they could the next Schwarzenegger movie or the latest Oscar contender. Horror has always been more of a spontaneous, of-the-moment, genre than a calculated one.
In 1999 Warner Brothers sought to change that with their new Dark Castle Entertainment production subsidiary. Headed by one of the biggest producers in the world, Joel Silver, the company was mandated to deliver a new horror film, most of them remakes, each October to cash in on the lucrative fall horror market. This attempt by the WB to bottle up one of the most unpredictable genres has largely succeeded, as each film (save for the modest disappointment of Ghost Ship
) in their current five film lineup has turned a tidy profit. Their last film, 2003’s Gothika
was their biggest success yet, and its performance both at the theatre and on home video has warranted a new special edition DVD. Is the film worth a special edition reissue, and how good is the new bonus disc? Let’s open the door to Dark Castle’s latest.
Miranda Grey (Halle Berry
) is a successful psychiatrist at a woman’s insane asylum. She is happily married to Dr. Douglas (Charles S. Dutton
) and maintains a good repartee with fellow worker Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.
). The film takes no time in establishing the cold mystery that is to follow, as the first shot, decolorized into a steely blue illustrates the entire mood of the picture. Miranda is in a cell with Chloe Sava (Penelope Cruz
), one of her patients. Chloe talks about trust, and how being on the other side of the asylum bars is a vicious experience. She tells Miranda that she is too busy thinking with her brain instead of feeling with her heart, since there are some things in life that escape logic. Chloe’s words serve prophetic, since later on the film Miranda herself winds up on the other side.
After getting in a car crash and meeting a strange, deathly woman on the street, Miranda finds herself awoken in a cell. She asks to see her husband, but quickly finds out that he is dead. “You’ve killed him” Pete informs her, and she goes into immediate denial. How can she be the murderer if she doesn’t remember a thing? She loved her husband anyway, so what motive could she possibly have? Nonetheless, nobody listens, and she is left behind bars with the rest of the woman. Inside she has odd premonitions – flashbacks of jumbled and horrific events – unable often to discern dream from reality. Still, she plans for her escape.
When Miranda does escape, she begins to piece the puzzle together. She finds out that it is not her at fault, but there is a greater master plan at work, put forth by one of her colleagues. Is it a guard, or does Pete have some dark secrets hidden behind his innocent veneer? Furthermore, is this scheme only a microcosm for a greater supernatural power, one where ghosts seem exist without restraint? The revelation comes out fully in the final shot of the picture.
is another example of what is wrong with Hollywood horror these days. The look is beautiful, too beautiful even, and the performances are strong. But where the film fails, and where almost every Hollywood film fails, is its overwrought screenplay. Hollywood films today are about the kitchen sink; throw everything into a screenplay, and eventually one of the ten different endings or scare tactics will strike a chord. Wrong. What these convoluted and clichéd stories do is create an instant feeling of disinterest. The one word formula for horror, a word which Hollywood cannot accept, is simplicity. The majority of great horror films, from The Blair Witch Project
are so effective because they are so simple. They layout their story right from the get go – vampire lurks in a castle, a witch in a woods, a killer on Halloween
– and serve that bottom line with style throughout. Gothika
is high on style, but the story goes everywhere, it is just sloppy.
Even the title, Gothika
, is tough to follow. The filmmakers even flat out agree in the commentary that it has no bearing on the film whatsoever, other than perhaps the mood it exudes. Suspense is sucked right out of DP Matthew Libatique’s cinematography because the story is so random and contradictory that it is near impossible to stay immersed. Halle Berry, despite being a prisoner, is able to leave the institution whenever the plot requires her to find out a new piece of information to further the story. Instead of trying to really push the isolation she is experiencing with cold and frightening personal shots of contemplation, like Libatique is so skilled at doing in Darren Aronofsky’s films (Pi
and Requiuem for a Dream
), we are instead fed expositional dialogue between Berry and Cruz, Berry and Downey Jr. and Berry and whoever else will talk to her. It is repetitive, numbing, and calculated, all with the intent of giving a final shock that hey, ghosts exist. Ninety-eight minutes for a cliché that the genre is already well aware of? Please.
Warner is not the only victim of elongating clever concepts to diluted nothingness. The recent Saw
is yet another example of how great original premises are becoming Hollywoodized into bloated pictures. It is bad, but Warner’s Dark Castle line of films just crystallizes the entire wrongdoing of Hollywood horror. Gothika
remains a moderate step in the right direction, since up until then the franchise had been remaking all the popular horror films of the 50s, perpetuating the remake mentality that has brought about a lack of new ideas to horror and to Hollywood in general. Gothika
is the first original screenplay they have worked with, but their next film is back to remakesville with House of Wax
. Hollywood needs to do some serious rethinking if they ever want to start making good horror films again. Originality, simplicity, it isn’t that tough to do.
Just like Hollywood has sucked up the raw intensity of the indie horror spirit, they have done the same thing with Halle Berry’s raw talent. She gets the Oscar for Monster’s Ball
, and then her next four pictures are empty franchise films, Die Another Day, X2
. Out of respect for Berry, her performance in Gothika
is heartfelt and certainly better than the rest of the films on that list. She is really required to emote throughout, and the numerous times she spouts tears all seem genuine. Penelope Cruz is also unnervingly effective in a small but important part. She sets the mood of the film right from the start, and Matthew Libatique’s cinematography takes over from there.
Libbatique and Director Matthieu Kassovitz conjure up some frightening imagery that is thankfully not heavily articulated by CGI. Make no mistake, there is CGI in the film, and the large effect shots look incredibly bad, but thankfully the film plays out more with old fashioned scare tactics. Kassovitz admits to being heavily influenced by Dario Argento, and his long, motional steadicam shots reaffirm this. There is even a notable nod to Tenebre
, where the villain emerges directly behind the protagonists outline. The movie looks really good. That brings up another issue though, since horror is built in the foundation that the audience thinks what is happening on screen can be happening to them. Indie films usually encapsulate this feeling the best, since the grit and unprofessionalism of low budget filmmaking usually foster a greater realism. Hollywood movies look so good now, that it is often tough to become immersed in the story of the picture. They are easy to admire, but tough to actually feel. Gothika
has a great look, but it is tough to even care.
is prepackaged horror fare, from the big name cast to the Limp Bizkit theme song (which is itself, like Dark Castle’s films, a remake), and it is a cold exercise in the wrong kind of mentality studio heads hold today for horror films. The plot is contrived, illogical and too cliché to bother following, making everything else redundant. If you can’t feel for the characters, if the story just doesn’t work, then no performance, camera move or lighting decision can save the story. I’ve been waiting – yearning – for an original and effective Hollywood horror film, and after Gothika
I continue to wait...
The transfer on the original Gothika
was nearly flawless, and Warner Brothers rightly decided to leave well enough alone (too bad they don’t do that with their old horror catalogue). This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is the same from the original disc, and it looks great. Kassovitz gets right up in Halle Berry’s face numerous times in the film, and the impeccability of this transfer is shown in every such shot. Every drop of sweet, pore, hair or skin abrasion is rendered perfectly on the screen. Detail is so sharp and depth so long that the barrier of the screen is almost removed. Indeed, it almost looks like the actors are there right in front of you. Blacks look perfectly dark, and the steely blues are rendered for a particularly moody image. Of course, not a blemish is to be found. This is a near benchmark transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track included is not nearly as jaw dropping. In fact, the limited surround use is somewhat puzzling, considering how effective a five channel setup can be in eliciting scares. Most sounds play up front, and sound extremely sharp and deep. What sounds that do register in the back, lightning crackles, wind and rain, sound very strong, despite their stock nature. Dialogue is nice and clear, and no hissing or distortion can be heard anywhere, given the fact that this is a new Hollywood film. The sound design could have been much more ambitious, but what is heard on this mix sounds really good, just not entirely enveloping.
What Warner Brothers did here was add only a bonus disc, since the supplements on the original disc: Limp Bizkit’s music video, the trailer and a commentary, remain the same. The trailer is simple enough, made with the same Hollywood gloss that the film has, and Limp Bizkit’s video is funny in the way he was able to get Halle Berry to make out with him the whole time. That is basically the essence of the video, for Fred Durst to show off his masculinity by walking around pointlessly without a shirt and making out with one of the hottest celebrities in the world. Good job Durst, your music still sucks.
The commentary with Kassovitz and Libatique is better, although it seems to meander a bit. Given that the director of photography is involved, it remains more technical in nature, and it would have been nicer if they had gone into a little more depth. Some scenes, like the pan out of the glass, were very interesting stylistically, and it would have been nice if they had explained it a little fuller. Given Kassovitz’s French background, his accent is at times tough to understand, and his word choices less than precise. The track seems more of an obligation than anything though, since the two do not seem all that passionate or willing to divulge many details. They talk about a day when the two got in a fight, yet do not explain the parameters of the fight whatsoever. That makes for boring listening. More often than not though, the two are interesting enough to at least keep interest. This is for Gothika
fans only though.
The second disc, the raison d’etre of this release, may just be one of the most useless bonus feature discs ever. There is so little meat to this disc that it is a wonder why they didn’t just put it on the first disc. First thing are the menus, which are awful. The layout structure is confusing, and it is never clear what extras are available. One instead has to click on their remote to find highlights that reveal supplements. Not only that, but it looks very pedestrian, full of extremely short animated clips. No animated menu lasts longer than ten seconds or so, making the navigational experience full of looping glitches. There is even a menu purporting extra special features that is entirely empty. Perhaps this is to illustrate how little is actually on this disc.
The biggest supplement is a 16 minute Making-of Documentary that basically has the cast members re-explain the plot for all those too disinterested to care the first time around. It is a puff piece to the max, and there is really little to take from it, other than a few behind-the-scenes shots. There is some footage of an axe to the face murder, and it is neat to see the way it was staged. Other than that though, incredibly redundant for anyone who has seen the film. It should not be on this disc. A shorter special effects featurette, “Painting with Fire” is included, and it details a few of the effects shots in the film. The effects shots aren’t particularly good to begin with, and the demonstrations aren’t really all that informative either. Effects documentaries have been done to death, and this is just like the rest of them.
Easily the most useless supplements are the “Office” supplements, which are all fictional recreations of some of Miranda Grey’s supposed patients. We are shown some of their drawings and sketches, along with some forced emotional narration. Another section has six video clips of various patient interviews, and all seem so staged and routine that it is tough to envision why anyone would think this to be a worthy extra. These are supplements about people who you never see in a film that is entirely fiction. It gives no background to the film or even Berry’s character. Why is this section even here?
The two final segments are culled from previous MTV broadcasts. The first is the ever annoying Ashton Kutcher staging a prank on Halle Berry for one of his Punk’d
episodes. The prank takes place at the Gothika
finale, where Kutcher hires a security guard to inform Berry that she cannot attend her own premiere because of fire regulations. Berry becomes notably upset, until Kutcher reveals that in the end, she got Punk’d! Berry demonstrates here again that she is a good actress, pretending that she wants to see a screening of Gothika
better than most people ever could. In ways I am sure she wishes she could have been locked out of her own screening.
The other segment is a Making the Video episode from MTV that runs 18 minutes. It details the making of the “Behind Blue Eyes” video for the first 12 minutes, then shows the video again at the end. I guess seeing the video on the first disc was not good enough. The show is kind of corny, with Berry and Durst trying to prank each other with rip-roaringly funny antics like eating garlic before a kissing scene. Hilarious. The show is finished off with Fred Durst burping in front of the camera, which may just be the most intelligent thing he says on the entire disc.
The second disc is entirely expendable, with features so short or slight that they could have been fit onto a single disc with the film, or removed altogether. This is just another example of a studio milking their recent hits for all they are worth. At least with two-disc reissues like Daredevil
there are different cuts of the film provided. There is no motivation for this re-release, and the poor quality of the film makes the existence of this disc all the more baffling. If you are a true glutton for punishment there is an offer with this disc for a free copy of Thirteen Ghosts
with purchase of this disc and Ghost Ship
, with its overwrought script, excessive polish and music video cross-promotion is just another example of how Hollywood is bottling up and bastardizing the horror genre for the masses. There is no reason to see Gothika
other than to reaffirm that Hollywood knows nothing about the essence of good horror film formulae. In terms of presentation, the video is near reference quality and the 5.1 audio makes for a good listen. The bonus disc though, is a complete waste of time, filled with awkward menus and unappealing extras. If you must own this film, then spring for the single-disc edition, since it has the same commentary from this release. For all others who were not initially interested in this disc, as Halle Berry’s arm reads on the DVD cover, you are Not Alone.
Movie - C-
Image Quality - A
Sound - B+
Supplements - C
- Running Time - 1 hour 38 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- English subtitles
- French subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio Commentary on Part 3 with director Mathieu Kassovits and DP Matthew Libatique
- "Making-of" featurette
- "Painting with Fire" effects featurette
- Punk'd episode with Halle Berry
- Making The Video show on "Behind Bllue Eyes"
- Confessions and artwork from some of Miranda Grey's patients in the film
- Limp Bikzit's "Behind Blue Eyes" music video
- Theatrical Trailer