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Gothika originally premiered in November of 2003 to moderate success both critically and financially. Coming off her Best Actress Oscar win for Monster’s Ball, Halle Berry is the headlining star of this thriller and served as the spotlight of the marketing behind the picture. Fast-forward to March of 2004, Warner Brothers released a single disc edition of Gothika with a commentary and a music video. A little more than six months later Warner brothers has treated fans of the film to a two-disc special edition of Gothika, jam-packed with extras. This stylish psychological thriller is headed by up and coming French director Mathieu Kassovitz. Does this young director take the restrained approach to filmmaking or the arrogant approach? Read on to find out.

Gothika: Special Edition
Film
The movie opens with Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) doing an interview with a patient played by Penelope Cruz. Chole (Cruz), a rape victim, contends that guards at Woodward Penitentiary are abusing her while Miranda contributes this to delusional behaviour. The camera keeps you in almost a first-person perspective as we follow Miranda to meet her husband Dr. Douglas Grey (played by Charles S. Dutton, who you will recognise from TV’s Roc and other bit parts he’s had) and a colleague Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). As Miranda heads home by herself that night in a rainstorm, she encounters a creepy-looking girl in the road who seems to possess Miranda. It’s at this point in the film, about fifteen minutes in, where you the audience begin the second-guessing. Miranda awakens as an inmate at Woodward where it is revealed that Pete is now her psychologist, and that she brutally murdered her husband.

Miranda’s journey through the mental institution is remarkable; she not only has to come to grips with the fact that she brutally murdered her husband, but also is seemingly being tormented by a supernatural force in addition to her former patients. This force follows here everywhere and only makes those around her feel that she has gone insane. The real genius of the film making here is two fold: the angle of the camera sometimes gives the audience the impression that someone is watching Miranda, but at the same time you are always questioning whether or not she is hallucinating. Pete Graham along with psychologist Phil Parsons (played by Bernard Hill of Lord of the Rings fame) attempt to piece together what would drive their friend and co-worker to murder her husband whom which she loved dearly. The story unfolds as we learn along with Miranda how she killed her husband, while her paranoia gets stronger. They get so strong in fact, that Miranda becomes determined to escape from Woodward, which she eventually is successful of doing.

As she retraces her steps, Miranda begins to piece together the events that led to her crime. She also begins to see her ghost as a means of help as opposed to an enemy. I will not divulge the plot twists that surround the finale of Gothika, but I can assure you at least some of them will surprise you, despite some of them being ludicrous. Halle Berry gives everything she has to her character, which makes her journey of escape and quest for the truth a meaningful set of sequences. She got so into character in fact, that she even broke her wrist in a physical sequence with Downy. Bernard Hill, Penelope Cruz and Downey are charming in their supporting roles, which enhance the reality of the story. It needs to be mentioned that the director chose not to explicitly show the graphic murder in a cohesive scene like so many other scare flicks do; that choice is commendable. Still, I cannot figure out the purpose of the film’s title, as there is no real gothic elements, even in the architecture.

Gothika: Special Edition
Those of you who have read my other reviews know that I think highly of film scores in terms of their contribution to the quality of a movie. Veteran composer John Ottman (whose credits include The Usual Suspects and X2) delivers a score that only serves as a decoration for the halls of Woodward Penitentiary, and he does it well. It’s not overbearing, but it sets the mood of the film early on giving a brooding sense of pending doom. Editor Yannick Kergoat shows off his mastery of the craft by giving exceptional memory sequences, and setting up big-time scares for the audience.

While he should be commended for taking risks in his effort, the failings of Gothika rest on director Mathieu Kassovitz. There were times when he used digital effects brilliantly, such as the writing on the glass of the cell. In contrast, he also used them unnecessarily such as the sweeping shot of Halle Berry’s neck, supposedly trying to show the tiny hairs standing on the back of it. Moments like this took away from intensity that was building, and that summarises the theme of the film. The plot twist in the beginning of Miranda murdering her husband was great along with the first twist at the end, but the three or four others came of extremely lame and leave a bad taste. It’s better to leave an audience with a smile than an eye roll.

The psychological thriller is a genre that seems to be attempted less and less in recent years. Silence of the Lambs was great, and one could even argue that the masterpiece Seven falls into this genre, but it certainly does not have the volume of movies like other genres boast. This kind of thriller in a mental institution had magnificent potential. Gothika certainly started off as a good movie with great potential, but got too wrapped up in trying to insert plot twists on top of plot twists. The cast’s performances were solid, the sets were great, the concept was intriguing, the length was good, but the obsession with the complication of the story and camera movements prevents the movie from escalating from average to classic.

Video
There is one glaring and unacceptable video transfer flaw in Gothika, which is a severe case of film grain in a scene that contains one of the nurses in a white outfit. I am not exaggerating when I say this particular segment looks as though it could have been filmed in the 1940s. I can’t imagine why this particular part of the print/transfer came out so poorly, but the DVD magnifies this problem. It is problematic enough that it distracts you from the story, if only for that brief period.

Other than that, Gothika has a respectable video transfer. Considering all the different shades of light colours in the penitentiary, there is no bleeding nor are there soft pictures. No edge enhancement is present, but there is some noise in some of the shadow sequences. Overall the stable colours throughout the movie stay consistent with the brooding tone of the story.

Gothika: Special Edition
Audio
The audio track for any horror or thriller film will usually never take away from the quality of the movie, and can only enhance it. Presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, Gothika’s audio track helps maintain a distinct mood and tone of gloom throughout the picture. The scare moments fill all channels of the audio, and hallucinations are fun as they put you in the middle of the situation. Unlike action movies, there aren’t a ton of explosions and bullets to play with on the audio track, so this is a commendable effort. The audio works for the movie helping to enhance the intensity of the story.

Extras
This two-disc edition of Gothika packs in a great deal of extras. The first disc has a feature commentary with director Mathieu Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique. The two contributors are very passionate about the product they’re delivering in the picture, but their commentary does not offer much constructive information in the film. There is a great deal of patting each other on the back and complimenting the acting performances but in terms of giving insight to the making of the film, I felt short changed. The commentary would have been much better off if they could have lured editor Yannick Kergoat and perhaps even Halle Berry to offer at least some anecdotes. The theatrical trailer is also included on the disc, and if you’re showing this flick to someone for the first time be forewarned that the trailer gives away an awful lot of the plot. The Limp Bizkit music video “Behind Blue Eyes”, starring Halle Berry and Fred Durst finishes off disc one.

Disc two features some well-designed interactive menus that bring you inside Woodward Penitentiary. There are two short making-of documentaries, the first very generally going over the making of the film entitled On the Set of Gothika. Interviews with cast and crew give a rather hollow look into the making of the movie. Painting with Fire is a short look at the charming special effects in Gothika; the only problem is that it’s more of a tribute to the special effects company than it is an inside look at the post production. MTV also contributes two segments, the first being the making of Limp Bizkit’s music video for the film. It’s worth checking out, as it gives the most detailed behind-the-scenes look than any other feature in the set. We also get to see Halle Berry get Punk’d by Ashton Kutcher (with help of Gothika’s producer Joel Silver) at the film’s premiere. While the cover art (which is great, by the way) may tout a DVD-ROM link as an extra, it is only a link to a website, I assure you it’s nothing more than that.

The final set of extras on the second disc left me a little puzzled, as there were three case reviews of patients from Dr. Grey’s Office. Bernard Hill gives the narration for the case reviews, and then acts as the proctor of questions given to the patients themselves. The segments are presented as being legitimate, just with an actor’s voice giving the questions to the patients; whether that is the case or not, is not revealed. Regardless of their authenticity, they make for the most fun segments of the extras on the special edition set. Despite having a lot of extras in terms of quantity, the quality of the extras was lacking. Overall, the extras are fun for the casual moviegoer, but possibly a letdown for big fans of the film.

Gothika: Special Edition
Overall
Compared to the previous bare-bones release of Gothika, Warner Bros. delivers a solid two-disc special edition of this thriller. While I think the extras could have been handled a little differently, like adding a more in-depth documentary and deleted scenes, it vastly improves on the previous release and will be sure to please fans. The movie itself let me down a bit not because I had high expectations, but because the potential for a truly classic thriller seems to have been missed. Halle Berry gave everything she had in her performance and was surrounded by a terrific supporting cast, but the director got too caught up in making plot twists and stylish camera moves. Also, if anyone can possibly tell me why this movie was entitled Gothika, I would greatly appreciate it.


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