The title of Gothika
prepares you for a spooky, atmospheric thriller with an emphasis on supernatural mystery. The best way to appreciate the movie itself is to understand that it's a waking nightmare that needn't make sense in the realm of sanity. Making a flashy Hollywood debut after his superior 2000 thriller The Crimson Rivers
, French actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz pours on the dark and stormy atmosphere, trapping a competent psychologist (Halle Berry) in the prison ward where she treated inmates (including Penelope Cruz) until she was committed for killing her husband (Charles S. Dutton), who was also her boss. Did a car crash cause her to suffer ghostly delusions, or is a young girl--dead for four years--sending clues from beyond the grave? Berry has to prove her innocence while Kassovitz keeps everything--including the viewer and costar Robert Downey Jr. (as Berry's colleague)--in the dark about just where the nonsensical plot is leading. There's a better movie in here somewhere, among the catwalks and crannies of the impressive prison-castle setting, and Berry gives 100% in a performance that's consistent with the movie's overwrought tone. Attentive viewers will identify the killer early on, and the ending is anticlimactic, but Gothika
serves up a few good shocks for ghost-story connoisseurs. --Jeff Shannon
Gothika stars Halle Berry as Dr Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist who becomes a patient in her own mental hospital after she is accused of murdering her husband (Charles S. Dutton). Grey's only initial memory of the incident involves a chilling encounter with a distraught girl (Kathleen Mackey) on a rain-soaked road. The incarcerated and medicated Grey is now haunted by the same apparition, and she must convince her former colleague Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.) that she is not insane or guilty of murder. Meanwhile, the seemingly mad ramblings of Chloe (Penelope Cruz), one of Grey's former patients, now make more sense, and Grey must throw aside clinical logic to solve the supernatural murder mystery.
Kassovitz, who is already a capable actor (Amelie) and director (Crimson Rivers), makes the leap to Hollywood film-making with Gothika. Drawing from heavily from the Japanese horror renaissance that began with Ringu in the late 1990s, Kassovitz conjures up a forebodingly stark and shadowy tale. Berry continues her remarkable string of success (after her Oscar-winning role in Monster's Ball, along with Die Another Day and X-Men 2), portraying Grey as a traumatized and vulnerable yet determined woman who must unravel the brutal and bizarre knot of her own lost memory. As Grey's work colleague, Downey Jr. adds an intriguing element to the film, and Cruz, as a frustrated inmate, gives an unusual, quirky performance. A scare-laden thriller that delights in the strange and the frightening, Gothika proves to be one of the finest of 2003's many horror films.