March 17, 2004
Starring: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill, Penélope Cruz, Dorian Harewood, Bronwen Mantel, Kathleen Mackey, Matthew G. Taylor, Michel Perron, Andrea Sheldon, Anana Rydvald, Laura Mitchell, Amy Sloan, ,
Mathieu Kassovitz is probably better known as an actor than a director, and most notably for his performance as Nino Quincampoix in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s ‘Amelie’. However, he has an impressive back-catalogue of films under his directorial belt, including the critically acclaimed ‘La Haine’. Now, following the success he has achieved in his native France, Kassovitz has sought out the big-time (Hollywood), with his latest film Gothika.
It’s not unfair to say that Kassovitz’ reputation somewhat over-shadows this film for anyone familiar with his previous work. The film was met with mixed reactions amongst fans and I certainly didn’t expect his ‘breakthrough’ film to be quite so standard. Instead of the edgy, streetwise direction taken in previous pictures, we are given a less than inspiring stroll through the cliché-ridden genre that is the psychological thriller. It seems Kassovitz decided to play it safe with this one.
The story is little more than a sub-standard tautology, a mixture of just about every modern horror film to date. It almost seems like a tribute to the horror genre, and the number of cameo appearances from other plotlines is quite staggering. To name a few which crop up in the course of Gothika, the hair over face girl who torments the main character, Miranda throughout (Ring style), The dead appealing to Miranda to solve their problems (Sixth Sense style), Young girls kidnapped and stashed away in an isolated log cabin (Kiss the Girls, Silence of the Lambs style). Add an unfulfilling, cheap twist at the end, and that’s Gothika.
There may not be much substance to Gothika in terms of plot, but the film certainly looks good. It’s extremely stylised, and this works well in a horror medium. For example, in one particular scene the camera begins to circle, at speed, around four characters as they flare up into an argument. This works well as it gives a disorientating effect to the scene, similar to the confusion which Miranda feels in the midst of this row. In a later scene, we are shown a flashback, which literally plays backwards, before grinding to a halt allowing us to see the individual raindrops on their way back up to the sky. Then the scene plays forwards and these raindrops fall to the ground. Another interesting approach taken by Kassovitz is to shoot a lot of the film through a wire mesh, which sits out of focus in the foreground, all the time circling his actors at a dizzying pace.
So Kassovitz does a good job with what he’s given, although unfortunately he fails to reign in on some overacting from Halle Berry (Miranda). The sets also look bland, and we’re all far too familiar with the look of mental asylums. In this sense Gothika trips itself up, as there is no opportunity to bring any fresh or exciting set design into the film. Everything is grey, lights flicker on and off, etc.
Director Kassovitz, and Director of Photography Matthew Libatique provide the Audio Commentary, which is patchy in places but interesting overall. Libatique seems to have a lot more to say than Kassovitz, which is understandable considering the emphasis on visual style in Gothika. The ‘Patients’ feature is a collection of interviews, artwork and observation notes on several patients at the hospital. This is a nice idea, but misrepresents psychology somewhat, with the psychiatrist purposely winding the patients up in order to provoke a violent reaction from them. Again, it’s pretty, but like the film, it’s utter bullshit. The three featurettes, ‘On the Set of Gothika’, ‘Painting with Fire’, and ‘Making of the Music Video’ offer an insight into the ideas behind the film, the difficulties that arose during the shoot, and just how much Halle Berry loves Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. If you can’t be bothered to see Fred Durst’s face any longer than necessary, but want to see the music video to ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, the programmers have included a shortcut which bypasses the featurette ‘Making of the Music Video’. Finally, the disc also includes nine trailers of future and present Columbia releases such as: Gothika, Spider-Man 2, and Panic Room.
The features on this disc hardly make up for the lacklustre plot of Gothika, but they do give you a better understanding of where the filmmakers were going (scares and shocks), which takes the pressure off the plot and any preconceptions of this as a Kassovitz film. For this reason, Gothika is probably best viewed after watching the featurettes and ‘Patients’ feature.
Despite the beating the film received from the critics on release, Gothika scored highly with horror fans. So to a certain extent, the film is a veritable success, although it’s important to take Gothika on its own grounds, as a horror film/psychological thriller. Keeping this in mind, Gothika is quite an enjoyable experience, and despite lacking in substantial plot to keep you engaged, Kassovitz’ and Libatique’s hyperactive visual direction is what’s really worth seeing about this film.