‘Gothika’ might have been a great film… but it wasn’t

Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. in 'Gothika'
Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Gothika’

After a dark, rainy night at work at the penitentiary, criminal psychiatrist Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) wakes up to find her world has turned upside down. After almost experiencing a hit and run with a terrified teen, Miranda wakes up in the very cells her patients call home. Having been accused of murdering her husband, Gothika follows Miranda as she tries to make sense of events she can’t remember.

One of the things that scared me the most in Gothika was probably seeing Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz without make up. Truly terrifying! Still more terrifying is the teenager Miranda swerved to miss only to find out that she’s been dead for several years. This angry ghost uses Miranda to expose the horror behind her supposed suicide. Storyline sound familiar? Too much of this film does. The scariness of ghosts who love to share their secrets with live people has been done to death (heehee) by films like The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes.

The scenes are dark and dreary, lit dimly by the florescent lighting of the penitentiary. And though the mood is set, Gothika has a formulaic quality that always makes it seem like there’s something missing. This is not your usual devil may care bloodbath but when it tries for the same substance found in The Sixth Sense, it falls short. We’ve dealt with so many ghosts in the last few years that we’re too desensitized to be caught unawares by even the creepiest Caspar.

Halle Berry goes through the ringer in 'Gothika'
Halle Berry goes through the ringer in ‘Gothika’

In spite of the film, Berry is perfect as a woman experiencing delusions that help her stumble upon the clues to solve the mystery of her husband’s death and her ghostly friend’s involvement. With mussed hair, wearing countless fashion don’ts, Berry gives a strong physical and emotional performance. When she’s not running away from someone, she’s a scream queen in the truest sense vocalizing a powerful set of lungs.

Cruz, who I have always thought had a language barrier (can act in Spanish but not English), is incredibly eerie as Chloe. She has her own secrets to be revealed in the film. Chloe is also instrumental in showing Miranda that “crazy” is a relative term, because suddenly she’s not nearly as crazy as Miranda used to think. Along with one ghostly gal, Chloe and Miranda make quite a Scooby gang as they begin to unlock the horrifying events that led to Miranda’s institutionalization.

The most likely suspect in this tale is Robert Downey, Jr. as Pete, Miranda and her former husband’s co-worker. Downey is wonderfully suspicious and delightful asGothika tangles us into Miranda’s fears. Trust no one becomes Miranda’s mantra as she uses her intuition and the ghost’s violent prodding to track down a criminal.

Now, don’t even try to solve this supernatural murder mystery. Not only the answers are twisted, the clues are nowhere to be found. Gothika is a good fright mixed with psychological suspense that’s a throwback to J.Lo’s The Cell. It is chock full of psychotic patients that are not nearly as scary as the good citizens that find hobbies in mass murder.

Gothika might have been a great film if The Sixth Sense had not been its predecessor. If you love Halle Berry, then Gothika is a film to rent, but don’t purchase it. Though the acting and the visuals in Gothika are incredibly good and sleek, with the exception of the awful killers, there is nothing original about the Hollywood debut of actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz (Amelie).

The Gothika DVD doesn’t include many features of notable interest, and the ones it odes include are fairly standard (read: dull). The commentary includes director Mathieu Kassovitz and, um, the director of photography Matthew Libatique? Interestingly enough, the actors are nowhere to be found. Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz would have probably offered insightful commentary as well. A disturbing Limp Bizkit music video that features Halle Berry is also available on the DVD.

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