Dark Castle was developed a few years ago, as a new company which would concentrate solely on producing horror films. The output has ranged form the enjoyably trashy (House On Haunted Hill) to the downright unwatchable (Thirteen Ghosts). So when it was announced that the acclaimed director of French indie film La Haine and recent Oscar winner Hall Berry would be teaming up for Dark Castle’s latest venture, jaws dropped. So, have they finally got it right?
Dr. Miranda Grey is a detached criminal psychiatrist who works at a female penitentiary. She has trouble with Chloe (Penelope Cruz), whose otherworldly claims are refuted by Miranda as psychosis. One night, while driving home, she almost knocks down a bloodied young woman. When she approaches her, Miranda has a terrifying encounter which results in her waking up inside a cell.
Gothika seems to take great pride in being totally derivative of many other films. What Lies Beneath, Stir of Echoes and The Sixth Sense all spring to mind. Yet for a film which can seem at times familiar, it manages to be just as entertaining as its influences. Unlike previous Dark Castle productions, the emphasis is less on full-on gore and more on Hitchcock-ian suspense. That’s not to say there aren’t a few horror clichs employed – a dark stormy night, lights which constantly flicker and so on.
Hall Berry makes for a very engaging heroine, which makes all the difference in a film such as this. Penelope Cruz is also surprisingly effective as Berry’s troubled patient, switching from menace to vulnerability, and delivering what may be her strongest American performance to date. Robert Downey Jr also makes up the numbers as a suspicious ex-colleague and he continually makes the audience question his own involvement.
As the story plays out, it’s clear there are going to be twists. While none of them are that surprising, they do have a jarring effect. The eventual background story behind the whole plot is quite chilling and the “discovery” scene is very effective.
Matthieu Kassovitz’s direction is assured and the film is gorgeously photographed. There is a lot of genuine suspense and while some of the cheap shocks don’t work, others really do. Near the end, the film does try to strike an emotional chord, and isn’t very successful. The final epilogue in particular is quite unnecessary.
Gothika is one of the more satisfying guilty pleasures of recent months. Berry and Cruz deliver great performances and the plot constantly grips. It’s a crowd-pleasing thriller which will surely entertain its horror literate audience. If Dark Castle have already gone from Ghost Ship to this in a year, the only way is up.