Dark Castle’s second foray into original film making provided the company with an opportunity to step outside of their normal modus operandi. Providing a more mystery driven, slow paced film, Dark Castle produced their most financially successful film. So, I will close out my Dark Castle month with their fourth feature film; this is my Sunday with… Gothika.
Release Date: November 21, 2003
Run Time: 98 minutes
Starring: Halle Berry
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Rob’s Score: 6/10
“It’s good to be God.” – Dr. Douglas Grey
Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) is a psychiatrist working at the Woodward Penitentiary for women. Her current patient, Chloe (Penelope Cruz), is not only violent, but is also not progressing. Her confessions of satanic sexual assault are scoffed at by Miranda as a coping mechanism not only for what happened to her, but also as a way to justify her murderous past. Feeling at a loss she seeks the advice of the chief administrator of the ward Douglas (Charles S. Dutton), who is also Miranda’s husband. Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.) is also there to offer some insight. After a long night of work, Miranda starts her trip home, which is detoured by a sink hole. Already frustrated, and now nervous because of the heavy rain, Miranda swerves off the road and into a tree after she sees a woman standing in the middle of the road. Miranda rushes to help the girl but when she grabs Miranda she bursts into flames. Miranda wakes up the next day inside the penitentiary with no recollection of what occurred after the accident. Dr. Graham informs her that she murdered her husband and was now being held inside the ward. Aside from this terrifying realization that she killed her husband, Miranda keeps seeing the “woman” from the road inside the psych ward, even being attacked by her in the showers. Dr. Graham and the people she once worked with see this attack as a delusion she is trying to convey into her own reality to explain her actions. Miranda now not only understands Chloe, but believes her and the two develop a strong bond while together. Now scarred, assaulted, and confused, Miranda must look past her clinical mind and into the realm of the unexplainable in order to piece together the events of the night as well as put a stop to what is plaguing her.
As I mentioned in the intro, Gothika is a different kind of horror movie for Dark Castle. All of the films, including this one, deal with the supernatural, but they are also fast paced, jump scare filled films. Gothika was a step away from this, providing the viewer with a much deeper, psychological film that’s success hinges more on the characters, than the evil that is stalking them. Gothika has many interesting layers aside from what we see on the surface. Gothika still embraced the jump scare, single set format of the previous Dark Castle films, however it did not rely on super stylistic violence or monsters. Sebastian Gutierrez penned the script and should really be applauded for a solid output away from the norm. Whenever we have a psychological drama like this the outcome can only be one of two things: either the character did it, or they didn’t! The truly entertaining part is the journey to find out the conclusion – the twists and turns that journey can take us through. This journey certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was an enjoyable and a slightly underrated one.
The real success of this film came from the performances we were given. From the opening conversation between Miranda and Chloe we know that we are in for a different kind of horror film. No more haunted houses, here we have a film that peppers in real world horrors. Many of these plot points may not have been fully realized however they are still planted beneath the surface of what we are watching, and they stay in the back of our minds. Penelope Cruz’s performance was brilliant and in my opinion was the best of the film. Behind her beautiful features there was a sadness and sorrow. She perfectly portrayed a woman who is aware not only that some of what she is saying is crazy, but also that most of it is true. She fully realizes that she will most likely never leave that ward, and it is heart breaking. She also conveys most of these emotions through facial expressions and her eyes alone which enhance the performance and dedication to her character.
Halle Berry once again provides a very good performance, but as with Cruz, most of the success comes from the unspoken moments of the film, and the body language conveyed between the characters. Charles S. Dutton only shares the screen with Berry for about five minutes, but in that time frame we can see that on the surface they are both a happily married unit. Dutton’s portrayal of an overly kind, teddy bear-esque figure provided the perfect counter balance to the kind of monster he was underneath it all. Anytime Robert Downey Jr. and Berry shared the screen you could feel the sexual tension between the two. A plot point that was actually addressed later on in the film, but due to the chemistry between these actors it was foreshadowed long before. Downey Jr. is naturally humorous with a sometimes frustratingly sarcastic personality (he really is Tony Stark), which shines through no matter what the role, but here he successfully bottled that up and portrayed a caring, somewhat lost doctor, that really complimented the theme of the film.
Up to a certain point, this film also did a good job of keeping the viewer off balance. For example up until the reveal of her husband’s secret life, most of the film leads you to think that Downey Jr.’s character is going to be the villain behind it all. Again, this is a tribute not only to the script, but also to RDJ’s performance. Unfortunately after the reveal the ending becomes very predictable. Along with the performances this film had layers of things to keep us interested. The short amount of screen time Cruz had fully invests us into her character, and it would have been an interesting device to maybe show us a few scenes from her point of view, especially when she recounts the activity that was happening to her in the opening scene. Another characteristic that I enjoyed was the evolution of Berry’s character from scared haunted woman, to heroine. I like the fact that during the climax of the film RDJ is nowhere to be seen and Berry’s character confronts and defeats the villain. She is another solid example of a strong female character in film.
Gothika was released to negative reviews, however opened at number two in the box office. In its final run the film made over $141,000,000 total, and is still Dark Castle’s most financially successful film. The film was also nominated for several “secondary” awards including MTV, BET, and Image awards. This definitely wasn’t the best psychological horror film, however I do feel it is slightly underrated. Many good performances, as well as solid plot twists absolutely make this a movie that should be viewed again.
Be sure to check out UMU Rob’s previous Dark Castle themed “Sunday’s with…” pieces for films such as House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts, and Ghost Ship (my personal favorite).