Criminal psychologist Dr Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) has a driving accident one night when she thinks she sees a battered young woman on the road, who erupts in flames. When she comes round, it’s three days later and her colleague, Dr Pete Graham (Robert Downey jnr) is treating her in the very same isolation ward where she works. To her horror, she has visions and hallucinations of the ghostly figure of the young woman, and other disturbing things. To make things worse, she’s accused of the murder of her husband (Charles S. Dutton), slain in a bloody act of violence in their own home – with all evidence pointing straight to her. Locked in the system she has to convince her medico colleagues as well as the sheriff (John Carroll Lynch) that she’s innocent, and to find out what her visions mean.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A film full of great atmos, made with verve by actor/director Matthieu Kassovitz, Gothika is kept somehow watchable (in a style-before-substance sort of way) by its star cast delivering powerful performances. They’re so good, in fact, that it’s worth writing a new script for them, in reverse lip synch fashion, ensuring they look as though they are speaking the new lines, in a new story.
Shame to waste such a good cast and such a good looking film on a scenario that intends to be scary but ends up vaguely silly. Supernatural gothic is a genre that needs more than the right look and a good cast; it needs a story or a premise that gives us the creeps. Although that is the intention here, the screenplay doesn’t manage that, and falls back on tired ideas of men brutalising young women, clumsily stitched to the idea of ghostly retribution.
Other problems are enlarged by the fundamental weakness of the script; like matching Halle Berry’s Miranda with Charles S. Dutton as her husband. Or giving Robert Downey jnr and Penelope Cruz roles that are as flimsy as the ghosts of the story … these might be seen as quirkily inspired casting choices, but they play as errors of judgement, throwing us out of the picture. Kassovitz is a gifted filmmaker (eg La Haine) and his cast and crew are all talented individuals: that’s all the more reason to regret this film.
Review by Louise Keller:
A haunting and chilling supernatural thriller, Gothika intrigues as it entertains, enticing us into a world of uncertainty. Talented and versatile director Matthieu Kassovitz knows how to make our skin crawl, utilising his top notch cast to the utmost, masterfully offering the power of suggestion to make us feel uneasy. (Kassovitz recently directed the terrific thriller The Crimson Rivers, and if you are still trying to place him, his work as an actor in films like Amelie and The Birthday Girl may do the trick.)
‘Logic is overrated’ says Halle Berry’s Miranda, and it’s not hard to agree with her, as we journey with her in this savage murder mystery tinged with demonic possession. In fact, the plot line defies total comprehension, so logic is not a requirement. Berry is superb: we are with her all the way as she suffers self-doubt and terror waking to find herself not remembering what happened. We feel the isolation she feels, with no ally, and enduring the torment of the unknown. Even in prison attire Berry looks fabulous, her beauty emanating through her expressive face, while her shapely form seems to make any item of clothing, however shapeless, fall beautifully. But we are not distracted by her beauty, it’s the performance that impresses.
There are a few incongruities in the script (especially as the story comes to its climactic conclusion), but I found them relatively easy to forgive. John Ottman’s diverse score unsettles subtly, as do Kassovitz’ fragmented images – a face-less girl engulfed in flames, flickering lights, moving shadows, relentless rain. The scene at the deserted swimming pool is one of the film’s most eerie; I held my breath as Miranda hides from her pursuers. Robert Downey Jnr is unfathomable as Miranda’s colleague (he is one of the edgiest actors around), John Carroll Lynch (you may remember him as Frances McDormand’s husband Norm in Fargo) is most convincing as Sheriff Ryan, while Penelope Cruz unsettles with her distressed Chloe.
The plot may not work if you analyse it too closely, but Gothika delivers chills and thrills on various levels.
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CAST: Halle Berry, Robert Downey jr, Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill, Penelope Cruz, Dorian Harewood
PRODUCER: L. Levin, Susan Levin, Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis
DIRECTOR: Mathieu Kassovitz
SCRIPT: Sebastian Gutierrez
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique
EDITOR: Yannick Kergoat
MUSIC: John Ottman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Graham ‘Grace’ Walker
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tri-Star
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 29, 2004
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