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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/12/04

2003 (2004) - Warner Bros.

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs


Film Rating: D

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/D

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Snapper case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), audio commentary with director Mathieu Kassovitz and director of photography Matthew Libatique, Behind Blue Eyes music video by Limp Bizkit, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (26 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

In the movies, there are certain mysteries that can't be solved. Not riddles like what's in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction, but true mind-bending enigmas. Such as why do studio executives think it's a good idea to remake animated cartoons as live-action features? If a movie was a flop in America but successful enough overseas to warrant a follow-up, why do we have to suffer through the sequel too? And why is Dark Castle Entertainment seemingly incapable of producing a watchable horror movie?

In theory, Dark Castle sounds promising. The brainchild of super-producer Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis, Dark Castle sprung up in the wake of their successful HBO series Tales from the Crypt. Silver and Zemeckis shared a fondness for the horror genre and after testing the waters with a couple of Crypt features, decided to create Dark Castle as a production company devoted solely to horror. It seemed like a good idea at the time, anyway. After all, Zemeckis had massaged Peter Jackson's The Frighteners from a Crypt pitch into a decent little horror-comedy. And while they aren't prime examples of horror cinema, I enjoyed both Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood (the two official Tales from the Crypt features) for what they were. Sure, they're both pretty stupid and neither one would scare the pants off a phobic three-year old but they delivered enough blood, boobs, monsters, and energy (not to mention, in the case of Demon Knight, Dick Miller!) to keep me entertained for their brief running time.

So why isn't Dark Castle serving up the goods? I'm not exactly asking for the moon and the stars here. Seriously, if you can't consistently rise to the level of the freakin' Tales from the Crypt movies, maybe you ought to consider boarding up the windows of the production office. But so far, Dark Castle's main claim to infamy is helping to spearhead the current vogue of needless horror remakes with pointless do-overs of William Castle's House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts (sorry, I don't play along with the whole spelling-the-word-with-the-numeral gimmick... it was stupid in Se7en and it's downright retarded here). Their most enjoyable movie to date has been Ghost Ship, which at least had a good first scene. And if your most enjoyable movie is Ghost Ship... well, that alone should pretty much tell you all you need to know about Dark Castle's track record.

Now comes Gothika and Dark Castle seems to have taken another disturbing turn. Instead of making a fast, fun, blood-and-guts horror movie, they actually seem to be taking this one seriously. Halle Berry (actually, I believe she's had her name legally changed to Oscar-Winner Halle Berry) stars as Dr. Miranda Grey, criminal psychologist in a creepy women's prison nestled deep in the scariest place on earth, New England. During a rainstorm, she swerves her car off the road to avoid hitting a mysterious girl standing frozen in the middle of the road. She blacks out and when she wakes up, she's an inmate in her own prison, accused of killing her husband and remembering nothing of what happened after the accident.

Now, that's not a bad premise for a movie. Well... OK, I take that back. It's a terrible idea for a movie. For a good horror flick, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief from the highest rafter. I'll buy the existence of vampires, werewolves, bloodsucking cannibal Mongoloid hillbillies and Lovecraftian demons from beyond time and space... for a good horror flick. For a mediocre or bad one, I am not willing to buy that mere days after being arrested for murder (days apparently spent in a coma, I might add), Halle Berry finds herself locked up in what is either a maximum security prison or a hospital for the criminally insane. I am not willing to believe that they'd stick the doctor who was treating the inmates into the general population with all the other murderers and nutcases. And I'm certainly not willing to believe that she'd be looked after by Robert Downey, Jr., the suspicious (and therefore, totally innocent) colleague who's been lusting after her for years.

Director Mathieu Kassovitz is best known in this country as the object of Audrey Tautou's affection in Amelie but he's also responsible for the art-house favorites Hate and The Crimson Rivers. To his credit, he fills Gothika with plenty of style and allows cinematographer Matthew Libatique (the talented DP behind Requiem for a Dream, amongst others) to roam freely around his very cool prison set. But throughout, it seems as if he's vaguely embarrassed to be making a horror movie and does his best to pretend he's not, disguising it for awhile as a psychological mystery. But there's no real mystery to this story. The girl Berry encounters on the road? Of course she's a ghost but we're meant to be shocked and surprised when it's revealed that she's been dead for years. Holy cats, really? I thought she was some really pale girl dressed in a negligee in the pouring rain who just happened to burst into flames.

For a movie like this to work at all, it has to be smarter than (or at least as smart as) its audience. Take for example the original version of The Haunting. If your audience is a couple dozen steps ahead of the story at every turn, it's time to bail out on the mysterioso approach and take a stroll down Grindhouse Lane. But despite its portentous title (which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, near as I can figure), the most gothic thing about Gothika is the wind and the rain. Halle Berry does what a good scream queen should and throws herself into the role with gusto but energy alone can't hide the fact that she really doesn't have all that much to get worked up about.

As for the disc... the technical stuff is pretty good, I suppose. The image quality is nice enough, though haunted by some digital artifacts here and there. The sound is clear and active but not as full and robust as you might like. It's all right, I guess. Gets the job done but I've seen better work come from Warner. Your special features menu offers up a whopping three bonuses. First off, a dry and rather technical commentary from Kassovitz and Libatique that might cure insomnia if you don't have much interest in the movie in the first place. Next, the Fred Durst-directed video for Limp Bizkit's cover of Behind Blue Eyes, a video that is almost as unwatchable as the song is unlistenable. Finally, Gothika's theatrical trailer is provided, presumably to refresh your memory as to why you might have thought this movie was going to be any good at one point.

While Gothika continues Dark Castle's proud tradition of craptacular horror, one wonders how Zemeckis and Silver are able to continue to shanghai such talented actors into participating in their little spook shows. I suppose that's just another one of cinema's unsolvable mysteries. If only the Cryptkeeper was still around to turn it into a fiendish tale of career suicide straight from the bloody heart of Horrorwood.

Adam Jahnke
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