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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