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GOTHIKA: SPECIAL EDITION

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill, Penelope Cruz
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: October 12, 2004

“I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“Neither do I…but they believe in me.”

Film ***

The notion of style over substance can often be a movie's success, and no movie in recent memory has demonstrated this more clearly than the eerie chiller, Gothika. This is a movie of a pure stylish thriller fashion, with a supernatural twist. In addition, there are moments in the movie were suspension of disbelief must go a long way in order to accept what you are watching. It is indeed a ghost story, but some parts of story make something like Ghostbusters a bit more realistic, if you could imagine that.

Prior to watching it, my expectations of the movie were pure and simple. I was expecting a visually stylish horror thriller story with the ever so gorgeous Halle Berry playing the role of the damsel in some sort of distress. My expectations were both met and a bit exceeded. I anticipated the stylishly creepy atmosphere, and I certainly got it. As for the story, you could very much say I was a bit surprised by the direction it was taking about midway through.

I say I was expecting horror because the movie happens to be backed up by the production company, Dark Castle Entertainment, which specializes in fun over the top gorefests such as their previous offerings Ghost Ship and Thirteen Ghosts. In comparison, this represents more of a departure because there is very little gore in Gothika, despite a creepy and chilling effect which lasts for just about the whole movie.

The story centers on Miranda Grey (Berry), a smart-as-they-come psychiatrist who counsels with the inmates of women's correctional facility. In the opening scene, she is having a session with Chloe (Penelope Cruz), who is trying to prove to Grey that she is being repeatedly raped in her cell by The Devil. Grey is also married to her long time boss and mentor, Doug (Charles S. Dutton).

That same night, following her session with Chloe, Miranda is trying to make her way home, while in the midst of a very dark and stormy night. After being told by the sheriff at a road block to take a detour, Dr. Grey notices something very out of the ordinary; that of a curiously frightened teenage girl standing in the middle of the road. When Miranda approaches offering help, the girl then bursts into flames, as does Miranda.

Three days go by, as when the doctor wakes up she is astounded to discover that she is a prisoner in the very same facility where she treated patients. Being completely unknown of why she has been incarcerated, her colleague, Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.) informs her that her husband has been brutally murdered, and that she administered the killing. Of course, Miranda is devastatingly astounded by the charges, and the more she tries to prove that she isn't psychotic on any level, the crazier she appears to everyone else.

Things manage to grow even more bizarre when the very same girl Miranda spotted in the street starts appearing within the prison. Before long, the doc is handed down a message that simply reads, "Not Alone", from this possible supernatural force. This two-word clue begins a maze for Miranda, which will force her to discover possible and shocking events in the past that led her to where she is now.

The movie's structure works in a most interesting way. The more absurd it gets, the more intriguing it becomes. At the point where Miranda manages to elude from the prison and able to go dig up facts, the tension increases with each new revelation, no matter how bizarre and preposterous they are. Ms. Berry is thoroughly believable and actually delivers her best dramatic work since her Oscar win for Monster's Ball, and Robert Downey, Jr., who I am so happy to see back on the screen, works well opposite Ms. Berry as Miranda's former colleague who is now treating her.

The superb sense of style comes from the vision of French director Mathieu Kassovitz, who directed the acclaimed and very little seen suspense thriller, The Crimson Rivers. Kassovitz is clearly a director on top of his game, as he structures individual sequences that induce some major impact. I especially liked a scene at about midway point where Miranda tires to piece together what she remembers before waking up in prison to Pete. The way this sequence is shot illustrates the directing talent that Kassovitz possesses.

In short, Gothika is pure over-the-top entertainment at its highest. It serves as a reminder that sometimes style can more than make up for the, at times, overwrought areas in the story. And even in those areas, it manages to remain quite appealing.

Video ****

Warner, once again, delivers a sharp caliber anamorphic offering with this outstanding-looking release. Since the movie is all about its style, it makes sense that WB would ensure such an eye gazing and downright superb looker of a presentation. And for a movie that relies a lot on darkly lit scenes, that's really saying something. The visual detail remains as impeccable as can be even in the most challenging of scenes, technically speaking. A full screen version is also available.

Audio ****

There is hardly a moment in Gothika where the sound factor isn't sharply alive. Being a movie that is heavy on some big time frightening moments and scares, the 5.1 mix is just what the doctor ordered. The level of dynamic range is very high and in full effect for the entire duration. Music is cued wonderfully and plays at a thunderous level and all of the scary elements in the movie payoff enormously well. A most outstanding job, indeed.

Features ****

Warner thoughtfully took a light disc and turned it into a nice, fully loaded package. For starters, the disc happens to have perhaps the best looking cover art I've seen on any release so far this year.

Disc 1 includes what was basically on the initial DVD release. There's a commentary track with director Mathieu Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique. There's also a music video for Limp Bizkit's cover of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes", and a trailer.

Disc 2 features a whole lot more, as the interactive menu screens do an incredible job of making the Woodward Penitentiary serve as a tour guide for each extra. To start with, there are two documentaries, "On the Set of Gothika" and "Painting with Fire", as well as the segment from the MTV show Punk'd, where Halle Berry is shut out of her own premiere for the movie, thanks to Ashton Kutcher and producer Joel Silver. Lastly, there is a MTV "Making the Video" special for the video for "Behind Blue Eyes" by Limp Bizkit.

Summary:

With a new two disc offering, Gothika is bigger than ever on DVD. With Halloween fast approaching, this stylish thriller would make a perfect viewing with the lights turned off, guaranteeing frights galore!

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