There are two filmmaking gimmicks that the old school horror veterans just HATE: the first is the fake scare, and we hate it because it's just cheap. It takes no skill to throw a screeching cat at an actress or to suddenly bleach the screen white as a shocking jolt of musical score jars the viewer loose from a near-slumber. Gothika is full of fake scares. They rattle off the screen as if it's a cymbal-monkey assembly line. The other gimmick we hate is the dream sequence. Nighttime dreams, daydreams, thinly-veiled hallucinations hoping to masquerade as actual plot points. Dream sequences are, for the most part, a big stinking cheat. Your movie could be about a woman locked in a cell, but thanks to the magic of dream sequences, you can film any old thing and then just jam it into the movie, common sense and story logic be damned. Gothika is full of hallucinatory dream sequence material.
Eliminate everything in this film that's not a fake scare or a dream sequence, and you're looking at 17 minutes of Halle Berry shrieking in an insane asylum. For about 90 minutes. Director Mathieu Kassovitz and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez deliver two parts music video for every one part hoary old ghost story. Berry plays a psychiatrist who, out of nowhere, murders her husband in rather nasty fashion before awakening to find herself a ward...of the very asylum that signs her paychecks! Whoa! And then there's the creepy Penelope Cruz making googly eyes at everyone...and the all-too-understanding Robert Downey Jr. as the untrustworthy head-shrinker! Toss in a couple of cops, an underbaked subplot about the roaming spirit of someone's dead daughter, and a huge handful of those fake scare / dream sequence passages...and you're left with a horror flick that will vanish from your memory even as the movie continues to unfold. There's just no meat on these bones...and they're not even cooked all the way through.
Toss Gothika into the pile of Dark Castle misfires. The production company has been responsible for such studio-safe horror fare as The House on Haunted Hill and Ghost Ship, but even those underwhelming projects display more signs of life than what's on display here. Ms. Berry is asked to spend much of the film writhing, keening and contorting wildly. Helluva follow-up to that Oscar win, Halle. Robert Downey, normally quite likable and smooth, underplays his hand and effectively vanishes into the background. Aside from Cruz, looking creepy and gaunt, Gothika is Halle's vehicle all the way...and she helps drive the thing right into the ground. Even the flick's "whodunnit" aspect is mishandled at every turn; we're offered maybe five whole characters...one of whom is Halle and two others who are quite deceased. So it won't exactly require an abacus and some scratch paper to figure out which character's doing the hacking here.
Gothika was released theatrically on November 21st, 2003. The DVD hit stores in March of 2004. And then on October 12th came this wholly unrequested 2-disc "Special Edition". One wonders why Warners didn't just give up the 2-discer in the first place! Oh yeah, to double the sales from the three dozen people out there who just loved Gothika that much. A bad horror movie is no big deal, but to bait-and-switch the fans in such obvious fashion...tacky move, fellas.
So what's offered on the 2-disc Gothika Special Edition that might warrant a whole new 20-dollar investment from the Berry faithful? Well, ported over from the first DVD are a commentary track (director Mathieu Kassovitz and cinematographer Matthew Libatique) and a Limp Bizkit music video. Yay. That's disc 1. Disc 2 offers a handful of frankly unimpressive material: two "behind-the-scenes" featurettes (see: fluffy filler EPK material) that clock in at 20-some minutes combined, a very brief excerpt from Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd in which Ms. Berry is refused admittance to her own Gothika premiere, and a nearly 20-minute (!) peek at how the Limp Bizkit video was made. And that's it! Even on a 2-disc Special Edition presentation, Gothika is underwhelming in the extras section as it is in the horror movie department! Sheesh!
Bottom line: if you're so infatuated with Halle Berry's pretty face that you simply must own ALL her movies, this SE is at least more recommendable than the first DVD release. And at least you can take solace in the fact that you're not even buying Halle's worst film. (And isn't THAT a scary thought?)