Halle Berry has gone from Oscar-winning lover-of-Billy Bob Thornton to Bond girl to white-haired mutant, and now is branching into new territory with a horror movie. I don't know if I like the trend, and it is hard to tell whether I liked Gothika, either, a film with a few reasonable scares but not much else.
Berry plays Miranda Grey, a beautiful psychiatrist that works in a creepy mental hospital with the worst electrical problems known to man (do you think that maybe all of the patients are off their rockers because the lights do not stop flickering at all during the course of the entire movie?). During one especially nasty evening, she drives off the road after almost hitting a crazy girl standing in the middle of the road. Of course, this crazy girl is actually a ghost, and for some reason she compels Berry to cut her husband into tiny pieces (unfortunately the movie fails to go into much graphic detail unlike Dark Castle Entertainment's last production, Ghost Ship). When Berry wakes up, she is in the very mental hospital where she once worked, and her doctor is her friend and co-worker (Robert Downey, Jr.). No one believes she is telling the truth, but we all know she is, because, after all, it would just be too humorous if it turned out that she was just nutso all along.
Gothika succeeds in one domain, and that is freaking people out. Director Mathieu Kassovitz uses the oldest and most unoriginal tricks in the book over and over again, but for some reason succeeds in creating some tense moments. One jumpy moment got me, but the rest of the scary scenes are fairly predictable (of course it is arguable that that does not make a movie any less scary). There have been many scarier movies that have come out in recent years (most notably What Lies Beneath), but the rest of the audience seemed scared enough. Just be prepared for the fact that every scary moment comes from the camera panning around just right to have the creepy dead girl appear out of nowhere.
Aside from being scary, Gothika is nothing to scream about. It isn't a terrible movie - it may not even be a bad movie - but it isn't all that good, either. For a movie with such a respectable cast (Berry, Downey, Jr. and Penelope Cruz), the script is nothing more than your stereotypical, cliche-ridden horror-thriller. Berry gets to act scared and crazy (to the point where I was hoping it would turn out that she really was crazy) and Cruz gets to do something a little different than usual (not very sexy here), but Downey's talent is completely wasted in a role that does not do a single thing to help move the story along.
Worse, the story is utterly predictable, and at times doesn't make much sense. Whenever a horror movie features a creepy ghost that appears only to one person (usually a dead girl), it is quite evident that the real bad guy is going to end up being the man who killed her. It has never been clear why every single ghost story has to be like this, but Gothika doesn't veer from the norm even slightly. Furthermore, it doesn't make much sense why this ghost feels the need to terrorize Berry to get her point across; sure, most of these stories have ghosts that just want help but decide to scare the victim for two-thirds of the movie, but here the ghost really beats the crap out of Berry. The argument is that she is trying to scare Berry to the point where she will try to escape from the mental hospital, but that's pretty weak; it really makes no sense why this ghost is having fun beating up the woman whom she wants help from.
Gothika really falls apart in the end, where it becomes painfully obvious who the killer is and the movie loses its suspense factor. The ending is short and cheesy (including some really bad graphics), and doesn't spend nearly the time needed to make the killer truly creepy. Oh, and that last little segment right before the credits is completely pointless; in fact, I swear I've seen that ending somewhere else.
Despite all its flaws, Gothika perhaps succeeds at what it set out to do, to be a moderately suspenseful and creepy thriller. It isn't smart, and to some it may not be all that scary, but to others it might be quite the opposite. Gothika may make a good rental for next Halloween, but that's about it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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