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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Gothika Mathieu Kassovitz 2003

"Tara Reid, Your Services are Needed"

I'll be damned if I didn't just see a remake of "What Lies Beneath".

In fact, they added a few scenes from "Thesis" and some camera tricks from "The Ring", but there it was, laid out for everyone to see: Smart lady has smart husband. Smart lady has shrink. Smart lady gets followed around by an annoying chick who is always wet. Smart lady finds out her husband is a murdering sicko, ends up at the scene of the crime, and takes a bath. Smart lady lives on with a new hairdo and stronger sense of self.

"Gothika" is the 4th film from Dark Castle Entertainment, a company started by the offspring of William Castle to capitalize on the assets of their wacko filmmaker father. The first effort, "House on Haunted Hill", was an uneven but fun dark-comedy-cum-horror-flick that had a few scares, a few names, and some gore. The next remake, "13 Ghosts", was quite unpleasant, technically overblown, and bloody, but failed to capture the gleeful macabre of the original. The third film, an original script called "Ghost Ship", was apparently horrible (I didn't even bother seeing it). And the fourth, the oddest and most conflicted of the Dark Castle babies, is "Gothika", a film so boring that even the set lights fall asleep during the scenes.

Halle Berry gets accused of murdering her husband after blacking out after seeing a wet girl on a bridge. She ends up an inmate in her own asylum and has to talk to Robert Downey Jr. and Penelope Cruz a lot, which doesn't help her state of mind. All of this is very clear from the preview (which began running about 3 years ago, from what I can remember -- back before the film was shelved for an entire month, even though billboards and bus ads were already running with the original date. Never a good sign.). The amazing thing is, this is all that happens for the first NINETY MINUTES of the movie. The filmmakers apparently don't think that the audience has seen the preview, and are guessing that the audience wandered into the movie theatre at random, with no idea of what they are about to see. So they speak veeeeeeerrrrrrrrryyyyyyyy sloooooooooooooowwwwwwwwllllllyyyyyyyy, lest we miss any important plot points. The funny thing is, if you've ever seen a ghost movie before, you already know all the plot points, because none of them are original. In the last 10 minutes we get a stupid "twist" -- although considering it's the first plot advance in the film, I don't know if it's fair to call it that -- and all of our question is answered and dealt with in a tidy wrap-up featuring the latest in computer-generated pyrotechnics and camera tricks. All is well, Halle and Penelope BOTH get new hairdos, and we get to go home.

Gripe #1: Had I the energy to sit through the credits (and earplugs, considering the atrocious "pop" song that was blaring over them), I would have searched for "General Electric" or "Westinghouse" somewhere below Halle Berry and above the principal crew. This is by far the most overlit piece of poop I have ever seen in my life. Sure, if you hire the guy who did "Requiem for a Dream", you're gonna want him to shoot his load all over the screen. But for god's sake, be realistic, guys -- there are more lightbulbs onscreen than actual people. The hospital/prison looks like it was designed by Nam Joon Pike, all crazy flourescents and glass walls (leftovers from "13 Ghosts", maybe?). Oh, right -- I'm sure we've all seen prisons where the cells are lit by one enormous green bank of flourescents hung at eye-level on the wall over the bed. It's the latest craze! There are more strobe effects than in the Blue Man Group; I wouldn't be surprised if this film causes seizures in epileptics. The camera flies around, through walls and up and over things, gleefully drawing attention to itself like the neglected younger sibling of one of David Fincher's cameras. Unfortunately, no amount of annoying strobing, flashing lights, or jarring close-ups can make up for the fact that there is absolutely no story, and eventually things fall apart entirely.

Gripe #2: Penelope Cruz is a weasel. Once upon a time, she was the spitting image of one of the Easter Island heads. But now that she's not getting any sex from Tom Cruise and she's in a terrible Margot Kidder wig, she looks more like a garden rodent. She gets the thankless task of being utterly crazy at the start (you can tell because she taps her forehead pointedly, in case you missed out), and then being revealed as simply "mizundaztood" by the end. Why she has to whisper all her lines like an Iberian Eartha Kitt I have no idea. Hell -- I'm not quite sure how she ended up in this film in the first place; Brittany Murphy must have been booked.

Gripe #3: Get a fucking scary ghost. If you're going to make a ghost movie and you want it to scare people, you have to do more than get some chick wet and comb her hair in her face to make it scary. Anyone who has seen Tara Reid out in Manhattan on any given weeknight has seen a much more frightening loony blonde chick than the wuss-ass ghost we have here. The worst thing she does it possess someone in order to kill a serial killer. Okay -- sounds like a pretty good idea. Oh wait -- that's supposed to be scary? Oh! And leading someone to avert a potential rape? Real good Samaritan, in my book. Oh wait -- SCAAAAAAAAARY. This is, to me, the fundamental problem with most ghost movies -- the people are always trying to "help" the ghosts in order to fix something, and the ghosts are only there to serve some kind of justice or reveal some horrible crime. Fuck that -- I want ghosts who make people rip their own faces off and push children in front of buses! I want ghosts that make people run for their lives, not say, "oh, but that ghost is SO sad -- I have to help her". What's so scary about that? That's like an afterlife afterschool special about being nice to the "different kid". Blech.

Gripes #4-7: NEVER allow Charles S. Dutton to kiss ANYONE in a close-up again. He looked as though he was going to swallow half of Halle Berry's face in one gulp; it was by far the scariest moment of the film. Women in nurse's costumes getting knocked over tables is inherently funny: do not employ such imagery unless you are looking for a laugh, which these guys were not. Chase scenes where the cops are ironically talking about boring nonsense as they try to find the hero are played out. Shots of characters typing on computer keyboards can also go -- I'm doing that right now and it's about as scary as this film was.

And Gripe #8: IF YOU'RE GONNA NAME A MOVIE "GOTHIKA", YOU'D BETTER HAVE A REASON. It wasn't the name of the prison. It wasn't, as my friend David thought, the name of Halle Berry's character, pronounced "Gaw-THEE-ka". The film wasn't remotely Gothic, and the name wasn't even addressed, and in my book that's sloppy filmmaking. Maybe we should ask director Kassovitz if it's French slang for something -- maybe "unscary bloated student film".

Rating (out of 5):