Dir: Mathieu Kassovitz
Star: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr. John Carroll Lynch, Penélope Cruz
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 2003
Format: DVD R1

Brilliant criminal psychologist Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) awakens to find herself a patient in the very same mental institution in which she works. Accused of her husband's savage murder, of which she has no memory, Miranda struggles to regain her memory and prove her innocence, with the help of fellow psychologist and friend Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). Miranda suffers nightmarish visions and ghostly occurrences which make her seem more irrational to her former colleagues and the more she tries to prove her innocence the guiltier and more deluded she appears. Just who are her real friends and why is this mysterious, vengeful spirit singling her out and what is meant by the blood daubed legend 'Not Alone'?.....

Gothika is the latest offering from the team at Dark Castle Entertainment and is essentially a ghost story with some thriller elements thrown in to 'spice it up'. As with last year's release Ghost Ship, Gothika is one of Dark Castle's 'original' horror movies as opposed to one of the remakes that they do so well. Personally I prefer the Dark Castle remakes, House on Haunted Hill and Thir13en Ghosts were very cool films that were visually excellent and worked quite nicely, whereas their 'original' movies just aren't particularly impressive in a horror sense. In the case of Gothika it tries to slowly thumbscrew the tension but it doesn't quite work which may be due to editing, but I doubt it, as it just doesn't convey the necessary sense of dread or suspense. Like many recent horror offerings, Gothika owes a lot to Japanese horror, especially Ring for much of its style and atmosphere as Western directors now frantically try to emulate some of the Asian pioneers of the genre. What suspense you get here is intermittent and the film misses some good potential as it lacks the depth for the chills that it attempts to deliver.

Disappointingly, Mathieu Kassovitz the director who brought us French cult classics such as La Haine and The Crimson Rivers, struggles to direct horror and appears a bit out of his depth. Were this a straightforward thriller with some mild action then his direction would work well, but this is supposed to be a horror and his Gallic flair doesn't cut it here. Don't get me wrong, I do like this film, it has a certain charm and in spite of being a bit lame in places it works quite well, but I do expect more from my horror films than this delivers. The direction enjoys some good moments but lacks invention or strength and offers very little scare factor, which is blatantly obvious as this is meant to be a horror film. Kassovitz bolsters his poor direction with a series of clichés, from the sinister gothic asylum on the hill and constant thunderstorms to the flickering lighting and power failures, there is some real eye rolling stuff in here. That said though, he does manage a couple of very well constructed set pieces which are likely to make you jump but they aren't enough and overall the whole project just isn't scary and is relatively predictable.

Halle Berry won't be making any tearful Academy award acceptance speeches for this film as she delivers a dull and unimpressive performance. She is watchable though, even if it is in the vain hope that she will get better and do something interesting with the character. One of the main problems is that she is just plain unconvincing as a psychologist, unlike her co-star Robert Downey Jr. who stays out of prison and rehab long enough to provide a good performance, bringing his usual brand of quirkiness to the role. Admittedly he seems to play similar characters in whatever he plays and makes a more convincing psychiatric patient than a psychologist. But, he has a likeable presence and is definitely one of the best things in the film but you do feel that he could do more. The vacuous and wood like Penelope Cruz is quite awful and her acting shortcomings are woefully evident here, even in such a minor supporting role. The rest of the supporting cast do a pretty good job, especially Bernard Hill who is used far too little for my liking.

On the whole Gothika is not particuarly scary or frightening, but it does possess a couple of atmospheric surprises and moments to make you jump. But, the film also has some pretty ropey and generally poor moments that are likely to cause a wry grin or even a chuckle due their cheesy nature. Gothika isn't a bad idea at all, but the problem is it does nothing to really grab, impress or surprise you. This is supposed to be a ghost story and yet there is little real creepiness or eerie goings on. Were it not for the eventual ghost scenes, glass cell and swimming pool for example you could very easily forget that this is meant to be a horror film. What mild suspense is in evidence does little to actually hold you in an icy grip of fear and tension. This is an average film and wasn't worth the 12 month wait to be honest, it is likely to attract a select group of indiscriminate fans and may prove to be a case of "you either like it or you don't", but it loses its appeal after a couple of viewings. Despite being an entertaining film, it doesn't hold its charm and I had expected better from Dark Castle. At least they are returning to the remake format next year in the shape of House of Wax..... although I find the casting of 'IT girl' Paris Hilton rather dubious indeed.


You can't trust somebody when they think you're crazy

Rating: 2 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Anamorphic Good sharp image
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Good quality soundtrack
Features Audio commentary by director Mathieu Kassovitz and director of photography Matthew Libatique
'Behind Blue Eyes' - Limp Bizkit music video
Theatrical trailer
Verdict Not great, unimaginative presentation and unimpressive extras

Rating: 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home