SEPTEMBER 4, 2011
I can’t recall why I didn’t see Gothika in theaters during its successful run in the fall of 2003. Maybe I was burned enough by the previous Dark Castle movies (none of which I particularly cared for) to give them any more of my money. Maybe I was still depressed about the 2003 ALCS. Maybe it was that godawful Limp Bizkit cover of the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”. At any rate, even after Dark Castle got back in my good graces with House of Wax and Orphan, and the fact that I have since seen/enjoyed a couple of director Mathieu Kassovitz’s other movies (even Babylon AD!), it still took me quite a long time to finally get around to it.
And now I know – I probably just didn’t think it looked particularly interesting, as there’s nothing really compelling about the movie throughout its entire 98 minute runtime, giving the poor sod who had to cut the trailer almost nothing to work with. This is a movie in which a woman is accused of killing her husband and can’t even bother to give her more than one scene with the guy, most of which seems to be designed into hiding the fact that they are a couple. And not for nothing, but Halle Berry being married to Charles S. Dutton is about as baffling a casting choice as I’ve ever seen – could they not get, I dunno, a dude who’s ever been to the gym at least? When they have their only kiss in the film it looks like a woman being smothered an overly affectionate uncle.
Also, most of the action revolves around not one but two escape sequences, as Berry is apparently imprisoned at the least competent institution in all of Quebec subbing for New England. At one point she’s able to break a glass door with a little screwdriver, which means an angry patient would have no trouble crashing through it to escape and/or use a shard of glass as a weapon. But even with the minor logic problems, it’s still pretty damn boring to see someone once again sneaking around guards and running down hallways – Andy Dufresne’s big moment after crawling through a pipe full of shit in Shawshank wouldn’t have been as uplifting if he had gotten out/recaptured a half hour before.
I was also baffled by the movie’s underdeveloped mystery, which involves everything from sex tapes to on-site rapes of the inmates to ghosts, and also (spoiler) boils down to the fact that Berry really did kill her husband, albeit while possessed by the ghost of someone he had assaulted in the past. So once again we have a ghost that has the power to write cryptic messages on the wall or even unlock Berry’s cell, but can’t just come out and tell her who is responsible, and even has her CHOP HER HUSBAND INTO PIECES, rather than, you know, write one of her ghostly messages, have Berry look into it, and then put the guy away in prison so he could pay for his crimes. Maybe if they had removed Penelope Cruz’s character entirely and applied that time toward developing the others (particularly the villain) things might have worked out a bit better.
Or, and I hate to say it, they could have gotten rid of Robert Downey Jr. I love the guy, and he’s fine here (if a bit subdued), but his character is just a big red herring, which we already had via other characters. As this is a “is she or isn’t she crazy?” movie, we don’t NEED to have a bunch of suspects to consider in the not-really-off-chance that she isn’t. Plus, since he has much better chemistry with Berry than Dutton, we wouldn’t be thinking “why didn’t they just cast HIM as her husband?”
It was also riddled with ridiculous moments and minor goofs, such as when Berry finds the bad guys’ “rape kit” with needles and various drugs, as well as... Gas-X? What, they are afraid of their rape victim feeling bloated? I also laughed out loud when Berry takes a guy’s keys and then runs out into the parking lot to find the car. It’s a common scene in movies – she plays with the auto-door lock button until she finds the car that is reacting to the button pressing. But the car turns out to be some piece of shit K-car from the 80s with 215,000 miles on it – why the hell would it have keyless entry installed? Unlike other DC flicks of the time, this one is deadly serious and without any levity whatsoever (save for a few random lines from Downey Jr), so these silly moments just look even more ridiculous.
On the other hand, it’s at least a well made and nice looking film. Kassovitz and DP Matthew Libatique certainly have good eyes, and kudos to them for keeping the movie visually interesting even when it seems like a third of it takes place in Berry’s tiny cell. The title actually refers to the set design (Kassovitz explains as much on the commentary, saying it has nothing to do with the story or characters), and it’s almost worth watching the flick to appreciate the sets and overall look (a common theme in early Dark Castle movies, actually).
The Blu-ray (and presumably DVD, since Blu-ray didn’t exist when this movie came out and all of it was copyrighted in 2003) is jam-packed with stuff of no use to anyone besides those who consider Gothika to be the greatest movie ever made; even if you really liked it I can’t imagine any of this stuff being of interest. The typically generic EPK style “making of” spoils the ending, so I don’t see why anyone would watch it as it otherwise seems to exist to get people interested in seeing it, and the look at the visual FX would probably be fine if the FX were any good (digital fire still doesn’t look that great; it certainly didn’t look good eight years ago), though there are a few “invisible” CG effects that looked terrific, such as the institute on top of a hill in the rain.
And that’s actually the best of it; we’re also subjected to not only the Limp Bizkit video (ugh) but the making of said video (UGH), as well as a segment from Punk’d where Ashton Kutcher admirably tries to keep newly minted Oscar winner Berry from having to sit through this, her first starring role in a movie post-Oscar win. Then there are a bunch of interviews with three patients who don’t appear in the movie in any significant way, as well as some artwork and a fellow doctor’s diagnosis of their illnesses. I can only assume these things were used on the website or something, because they don’t seem to fit into the plot of the movie at all – maybe if they were Berry’s patients it would make some sense. That just leaves the commentary by Kassovitz and Libatique, which is, as is usually the case with director/DP commentaries, boring. They talk about how scenes were lit and how they worked within the confines of a few of the sets, and almost nothing about the story. Hell it’s over an hour in before they finally mention John Ottman, whose score is one of the best things about the flick. I guess if you were a budding DP or set designer this chat might be of interest, but otherwise it’s like the film itself – perfunctory and forgettable.
What say you?