ninth symphony films - movie reviews

GOTHIKA (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  mathieu kassovitz

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  horror

LENGTH  -  95 minutes

RELEASED  -  21 november 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  warner bros.

OFFICIAL SITE  -  gothika

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $40,000,000
gothika - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from gothika at

buy the dvd from gothika at

ghost story in which a psychiatrist wakes up as a patient in the very asylum where she worked with no memory of committing a terrible crime.

halle berry broke her arm during the production while filming a scene with robert downey jr.


picture from gothika

picture from gothika

picture from gothika


one out of four possible stars

Relying emphatically on the standard cinematographic techniques of horror filmmakers, the makers of Gothika seem to believe that telling a story that's already been told a few times before in a way in which it's already been told is going to impress the audience. While it's asking quite a lot of a filmmaking team to come up with a truly unique story, it's a shame to use such talented actors in a movie where so much emphasis is placed on camera tricks. Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. are both talented actors and it's only because of their dramatic abilities that this film carries on in an entertaining manner. Though it definitely begins with more creative "oomph" than it ends, Berry and Downey turn what is a tepid script into mildly entertaining filmmaking.

Though viewers should be warned that there is really no resolution between Downey's character, "Pete Graham" and Berry's "Miranda Grey." The evolution of their relationship is hampered by a script that seems to leave the conclusion of that part of the story on the cutting room floor. The hasty ending of the film in the third act makes me think that the editor (or director or distributor or party responsible for the final cut) was made to cut out some parts of the story which revealed character in order to wrap up the plot and get to the credits.

But with the heavy use of mood music and sound effects to heighten the tension of various scenes, the film becomes so much more style than substance and watching this film really becomes just that: an exercise in watching a film without forming much emotional attachment to the characters. Which, in and of itself is not always a requirement for enjoyable movie watching, but makes it difficult to want to see a film to its conclusion.

In quite an ironic turn of events, just when a filmmaker needs the audience to stay emotionally connected to the characters (whether that connection comes from comedy, drama, tragedy, horror). By relying solely on the aforementioned "style" of the picture, it seems to have been a good move of the filmmakers to keep the film to a rather tidy ninety-five minutes (that's with the credits).

If the audience would have been subjected to additional standard horror film clichés (usually in the form of an over-worked Foley department), the rather gaping plot-holes would probably have become massively apparent while the movie was still unspooling. In point of fact, the more observant members of the audience might indeed notice some irregularities before the film concludes. I will refrain from defining these logic jumps just in case you'd prefer picking them out yourself.

But though it's easy to recognize the abandoning of character in the second half of the film, credit still should be given to the crew for their ability to create an atmosphere worthy of a horror film. All the elements are there: lighting, music, sound effects. There seems to have been an emphasis on creating a sparse environment for the actors to move around in so that the tight, dimly-lit spaces might have some impact on the characters' motions and decisions. And if an audience member is willing to personify the location, the film might become more rounded in regards to the characters and the lack of them.

On a last note, it bears mentioning that the titling of the film as "Gothika" is a complete mystery. There is no reference to this word anywhere in the film, and it's not a word commonly in use as a descriptive term for a horror film. It seems to be an amalgamation of the word, "goth" and a suffix that might brand the word as a town's name or the name of a place. But there just doesn't seem to be any motivation for the name of the film. But as the title of the film really isn't really a true marker as to a film's success, this oddness is more of an annoyance than something that will bother you throughout the run of the film. No, the job of "bothering" in this film belongs to the screenwriter, Sebastian Gutierrez, whose script as it appears on screen lacks the fire and jump that it needs to really grab an audience's heart for the run of the film.

Though viewers will find initial sympathy for Berry's character and that of her fellow prisoner, "Chloe," played with unusual savvy by Penélope Cruz, the film deteriorates after the half-way mark as the destinies of the characters become marred in the standard horror-movie clichés of daring escapes, dark passages, and ghostly noises. The film isn't intelligent enough to appear as a riveting psychological thriller, but neither is it terrifyingly graphic enough to make horror fans squeal with glee.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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