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Gothika   D+

Warner Bros. Pictures

Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Matheiu Kassovitz
Writer: Sebastian Gutierrez
Cast: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill, Penélope Cruz.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Mathieu Kassovitz's Gothika knows it wants to be a cheesy genre picture, but hasn't yet figured out which genre it wants to exploit. So, it plays around with several -- from the hauntingly vague ghost story to the scrappy women's prison flick -- before abandoning all logic and crashing in a heap of predictable murder-mystery conventions and outright stupidity in its final act.

Plot discrepancies aside, it's easy to see what attracted Oscar-winner Halle Berry to the lead role of Miranda Grey. A criminal psychiatrist, Grey presides over an army of disturbed patients at a Connecticut penitentiary. She works alongside her loving spouse, Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton), and can't seem to crack the shell surrounding one particular patient (Penélope Cruz) suffering from severe delusional fantasies.

Driving home in the dead of night, Miranda swerves to avoid a rail-thin girl standing in the middle of the road. She approaches the quivering teen, but something out of the ordinary occurs. The next thing you know Miranda is being revived at the hospital she works in, but discovers she's now a patient and her doctors are accusing her of murdering her husband.

Gothika initially generates the kind of fear associated with a rational mind suddenly behaving irrationally. We, as an audience, second-guess Miranda's sanity, as reality clashes with fantasy in the darkened corridors of the prison facility. Clunky dialogue trips through rain-soaked, atmospheric set work, but it all contributes to the film's spooky Twilight Zone twist. Kassovitz knows when and how to effectively jolt his audience with a cheap scare. And Berry brings a caged heat, a mixture of fury and frustration that services her restrained prison scenes. Their combined tactics turn a third-rate ghost story into a second-rate chiller for the first 20 minutes.

Then Gothika detours when it should've stayed with its initial B-movie horror genre trappings. The girl in the road might be a ghost. Miranda could've been possessed. There's an unsolved murder mystery, a missing child, a suicide. Plot possibilities are tossed out like yesterday's trash, but few are explored or tied together.

Credibility decreases with each passing minute. Characters behave irrationally to further the screenplay's illogical thoughts. Two security guards can't see a body hiding at the bottom of swimming pool. The self-inflicted cuts on Miranda's arms form the words "Not Alone" for all to see, yet her doctors refuse to acknowledge the supernatural nature of the act. Clues to the screenwriter's approach surface when Miranda mutters, "Logic is overrated." I couldn't have said it better myself.

Review published 11.20.2003.

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