Preview by: Jack Foley
FRESH from her stint as a Bond girl (Die
Another Day), and after reprising her role in X-Men,
Halle Berry finally gets back to the character-driven dramas that
have helped to establish her as one of the best actresses of her
Gothika is the latest film from actor-turned-director Mathieu
Kassovitz (who has appeared in Amelie
and Birthday Girl), and is described as a horror/thriller whci
focuses on a criminal psychologist, (Berry), who awakens to find
herself a patient in the institution where she works, with no
memory of the murder she's accused of committing.
As she tries to regain her memory - and her freedom - a vengeful
spirit manipulates her.
According to Kassovitz, the ensuing movie is 'a character-driven
ghost story, but in a non-special effects way'.
"[In Miranda's] journey to either prove her innocence or
accept her guilt, everybody becomes suspect," adds Berry,
in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
"It's like a whodunit - Kassovitz took what could have been
a horror movie into something deeper, more suspenseful,"
she continues, before adding that the finished picture is genuinely
The $40 million project has been in and out of the news ever
since production began, and usually because of its star.
Most notable, was the freak accident which caused Berry to break
her arm, thus forcing the production to be put on hold while she
The accident itself was described as 'a freak thing' by the star
herself, who subsequently took three weeks off to recover, but
was also seized upon as a 'blessing in disguise' by the director,
who confesses to having had problems with the schedule.
The movie is also notable for marking the return to the screen
of Hollywood bad boy, Robert Downey Jnr (who always promises a
charismatic turn), as well as Penelope Cruz and Charles S Dutton.
Kassovitz was also considered to be something of a surprise choice
for the film's producer, Joel Silver, who only produced him after
seeing his French film, The Crimson Rivers, with Jean Reno.
But the gamble appears to have paid off, with advance word on
the project extremely hot, and Kassovitz himself rising to the
challenge of his first Hollywood venture.
As he told Entertainment Weekly: "I don't know if it's because
we shot in Montreal, because of Joel, or because of Halle, but
it's the best shoot I've ever done. It's a good movie, and I feel
like I can do [anything] for the next one.''
And just in case you were wondering, that next project will reunite
the director with another of his Crimson Rivers co-stars, Vincent
(Irreversible) Cassel, for
the sci-fi thriller, Babylon Babies.
In spite of the positive word from everyone associated with the
project - who were keen to talk up the focus on genuine chills,
rather than special effects - US critics weren't overly impressed
with the movie.
Entertainment Weekly's echoed the majority opinion, when
it wrote that 'this overripe grade-C reconstitution of a grade-B
scary thriller hauls out thunderstorms, blood, the ghosts of butchered
girls, nightmares, and the usual head trips'.
While the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that 'for those
who want nothing more than a thorough scare, Gothika is effective.
But for those of us who want some psychological insight with our
frightfests, the film is sadly lacking'.
The New York Times was a little more critical, stating
that it 'is a thoroughly synthetic confection, compounded of clichés
drawn from a half-dozen genres and subgenres that for a while
might almost persuade its audience, as it apparently convinced
its makers, that it is something more'.
While the Washington Post found that 'scriptwriter Sebastian
Gutierrez and French director Mathieu (Hate) Kassovitz ... treat
this movie with all the subtlety of a Judas Priest music video'.
Rolling Stone, meanwhile, opined that 'if you're smart,
alone is just where you'll leave Gothika'.
And the Chicago Tribune felt that it 'plays out on screen
as a series of crazy chases and lady-in-distress cliches, interspersed
with wildly illogical plot twists-all caught by a nervous camera
whirling like drunken paparazzi'.
Hollywood Reporter felt that, 'after a seductive start,
it all becomes an empty swirl of smoke and mirrors - or, in this
case, flickering fluorescent bulbs and icy glass'.
And the New York Daily News wrote that 'no scene goes
underplayed, no performance (save one, from Robert Downey Jr.)
lacks volume, no horror cliche is forgotten'.
The New York Post, meanwhile, was critical because 'Kassovitz
... seems totally oblivious to how silly this all gets'.
On a more positive note, however, the Detroit News wrote
that 'it's sure, scary stuff, and fans of heart palpitations will
likely find themselves pleased'.
While the Chicago Sun-Times opined that 'in trash as in
art there is no accounting for taste, and reader, I cherished
this movie in all of its lurid glory'.
But the word was largely negative, with the San Francisco
Chronicle noting that it is 'constantly bouncing from derivative
to ridiculous and back to derivative again' and adding that 'Gothika
will be tolerable for undiscriminating horror fans but should
be shunned by everybody else'.
The Houston Chronicle brings this round-up to a close,
however, by writing that 'the film has suspense and enough well-done
jolts to satisfy the folks who go to movies for those sorts of
things, but the more the story wades into the supernatural, the
sillier it gets'.
The movie is scheduled for a UK release on April 2, 2004.