Review by Paul Stathakis | 2003

There are moments in “Gothika” where a ghost unex­pect­ed­ly appears behind Halle Berry and some audi­ence mem­bers jump in their seat. That is what “Gothika” does at best, makes us feel uncom­fort­able with cer­tain eerie setups and always depends on thrilling us briefly.

Math­ieu Kasso­vitz is the 35-year old direc­tor from France who helmed the thriller “The Crim­son Rivers” in 2001, which starred Jean Reno and Vin­cent Cas­sel. It turned out to be one of the most orig­i­nal sus­pense tales I had seen in a long while and it was done with care and thought. “Gothika”, Kassovitz’s first U.S. project, gave me the impres­sion that thought was exclud­ed from the plan and that no care was put into the movie’s pro­duc­tion.

The sto­ry has psy­chol­o­gist Miran­da Gray (Halle Berry) try­ing to help a men­tal­ly-chal­lenged patient, Chloe (Pene­lope Cruz). Gray lis­tens to Chloe’s prob­lems, try­ing to pin­point her patient’s prob­lem-causer. When Gray tells Chloe to place her trust in her, she gets the log­i­cal reply: “How can you trust some­one who thinks you’re crazy?” But after a fright­en­ing encounter with a young female, Gray sud­den­ly finds her­self locked up in a cell, in the insti­tu­tion as a patient, booked for the mur­der of her doc­tor hus­band Doug (Charles S. Dut­ton).

In 2001, Berry was award­ed the Oscar for Best Actress for her brave per­for­mance in “Monster’s Ball.” It is almost impos­si­ble to under­stand how and why Berry would go on to do a film like “Gothika” that has no inter­est in char­ac­ters and dia­logue. Although Berry’s per­for­mance is some­what believ­able and is the only fac­tor that helps the movie bare­ly stay afloat, her name seems more impor­tant on the poster than it does in the actu­al film. Robert Downey Jr. plays Gray’s humor­ous co-work­er, also a psy­chol­o­gist. Downey Jr. has always been fun to watch, even when he was part of the Alley McBeal cast. He has the abil­i­ty to take on these small roles and give them plen­ty of life.

The mes­sage of the movie is unclear and lacks cre­ativ­i­ty. It is com­pact­ed with these silent moments, which auto­mat­i­cal­ly hint that some­thing super­nat­ur­al (like a ghost) will jump out from a cor­ner to scare us. For the most part the scenes didn’t have an effect on me, because of their pre­dictabil­i­ty. We’re so used to these types of thrillers that we’ve become immune to them, and, in the process, mas­tered their for­mu­la. M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” had sim­i­lar scenes, qui­et ones with the actors mov­ing slow­ly, with the wood floors creak­ing, and half a dozen audi­ence mem­bers yelling at the screen, “here comes the scare!” The scenes in “Signs” would end and noth­ing would hap­pen. That’s how Hitch­cock used to work. He would hold back a great deal, tam­per with our minds, let us breathe and feel com­fort­able, only to reveal shades of ter­ror when we least expect­ed it, just as we’d begin to feel less spooked out or alarmed.

In “Gothika”, the hero­ine wants peo­ple to believe in her inno­cence. No one lis­tens to her, yet she cries, yells, and begs to be heard. She sees things that no one else sees and when she tries explain­ing her­self, it only mak­ers her look more delu­sion­al and crazy. The fun thriller “Night­watch” put it best when Ewan McGregor’s char­ac­ter com­pared his eerie sit­u­a­tion to a made-for-tele­vi­sion thriller. He tells a cop that he feels like he’s liv­ing in a USA net­work movie, where the kid sees a mon­ster in his clos­et and screams for help. His father rush­es to his son’s room and finds noth­ing in the clos­et. But the kid real­ly saw a mon­ster. It just wasn’t there when his dad walked in. It van­ished at that exact moment and the father doesn’t believe the kid. He thinks his son is hav­ing night­mares. That’s “Gothika” in a nut­shell, almost. And like usu­al, the hero­ine does unimag­in­ably great things like solv­ing an entire inves­ti­ga­tion on her own to prove her­self.

What Lies Beneath”, “Frailty”, “The Ring” — the list is vast. “Gothika” is a trip down mem­o­ry lane and even worse. It is hol­low and doesn’t know what part of the sto­ry to focus on. Towards the mid­dle, it almost divides itself into two sto­ries and we begin los­ing inter­est. Even the whole lights’ flick­er­ing is way over­done and use­less and it usu­al­ly works in most thrillers, but not here. “Gothika” tries to be psy­cho­log­i­cal, hor­rif­ic, shock­ing, and throws 1001 twists at us to achieve great results. But I real­ly didn’t care for any­thing in the movie. I didn’t care about the char­ac­ters and what hap­pened to them and espe­cial­ly why “it” all hap­pened. I wasn’t con­cerned one bit, because in the end it all amounts to one big “Boo!” and a small jolt.

 

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