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As a horror fan, I can say that Iíve really liked all of the previous Dark Castle Entertainment productions- they were efficient, creepy and pushed all of the right fright buttons. As for their latest film, GOTHIKA ($27), it sure is entertaining enough, however on the visceral horror level, the movie is something of a letdown. Starring Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry, GOTHIKA tries to go too upscale and loses the lurid quality that a production such as this requires to please horror fans and be truly successful. Mining the best elements of films such as HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, STRAIT-JACKET and THE SNAKE PIT, GOTHIKA melds them with a ghost story to weave an entertaining spell, but the film could have used a bit more of a hard edge to make it an out and out fright fest.

In GOTHIKA, Halle Berry portrays Dr. Miranda Grey, a prison psychologist dealing with the neurosis of some of the most disturbed and violent female inmates. While driving home during a furious thunderstorm, Miranda is forced to take a detour onto a less frequented road where she has an accident, after swerving to avoid a young woman standing in the middle of the road. Emerging from her car to check on the teenager she nearly ran down, Miranda is aghast when the obviously drenched girl bursts into flames right before her eyes. Awakening three days later from this bizarre incident, Miranda is horrified to discover that she is now an inmate in the mental ward of her own prison.

After she is medicated into a state of calm, fellow prison doctor, Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.), informs Miranda why she has been incarcerated. It seems that when Miranda arrived home three nights earlier, she took an axe and hacked her husband, Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton), to death. With no memory of the gruesome crime, Miranda tries to piece together the events of the evening. Making matters worse, Miranda is also being repeatedly visited by the apparition of the girl from her automobile accident, which only seems to make the imprisoned psychologist appear crazier to everyone around her. The cast of GOTHIKA also features John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill and Penťlope Cruz.

Warner Home Video has made GOTHIKA available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. This is a generally excellent transfer that is only limited by the intended dark an indistinct look of individual shots. While, most of the film is incredibly sharp and richly defined, there are instances where the picture is dark and moody, which is where the image becomes less highly defined. Colors are a bit variable; there are instances where the colors are strongly rendered and attractive, but much of the film goes for a bleak chromatic scheme, plus prison interiors that rely on fluorescent lighting tend to display skewed hues. Blacks are very accurate, whites are crisp and contrast can be a bit harsh, which accentuates the films mood. The film elements are virtually pristine and occasionally display a mild grain structure. Digital compression artifacts are always kept in check.

GOTHIKA comes with a great sounding Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. While it isnít the most aggressive mix out there, the sound designers hit all the right marks, creating an eerie, atmospheric soundtrack with a number of sonic highlights. Of course, the standouts are the filmís thunderstorm and car wreck sequences, but I also like some of the smaller moments that involve the prisonís faltering electrical system. The sound design itself proves to be cohesive from front to back and completely enveloping. Dialogue is crisp and always completely understandable. The bass channel packs a wallop, but never seems artificially pumped up. A French 5.1 channel track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVD's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few extras. Director Mathieu Kassovitz and director of photography Matthew Libatique are on hand to provide a running audio commentary for GOTHIKA. While it is not the most consistently talky yabber-fest, this is a fairly interesting commentary track; with the participants imparting a good deal of technical information on the production. The other extras are a theatrical trailer and music video for the Limp Bizkit performance of the Pete Townsend composition Behind Blue Eyes.

GOTHIKA is a good rainy eveningís entertainment for those who enjoy genre films. It isnít the best production to come out of Dark Castle Entertainment, but I liked GOTHIKA nonetheless. As for Warnerís DVD, the presentation is first rate, so if you are interested in checking out GOTHIKA, there is no better way than with the wide screen DVD.



Gothika (Widescreen Edition) (2003)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2004 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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