172 – Gothika

Gothika is a new-fashioned ghost story in which a conscientious, well-liked criminal psychologist (Halle Berry) wakes up in a cell in the very insane asylum in which she works – and she’s accused of a heinous crime. Whodunit?

The movie begins creepily enough, with some requisite background on Miranda (Berry) on how she interacts with her husband/boss (Charles S. Dutton) of the institute, her coworker Pete (Robert Downey, Jr.), and her prize patient Chloe (Penelope Cruz, gettin’ all ugly and stuff), followed by her waking up in the aforementioned glass you-will-not-escape cell.

Why is she there? Why does she have no memory of getting there? Why is Pete so irritated with her? You’ll care about these questions, too, but rest easy: Your caring will soon dissipate.

Chilling stories, especially ghost stories, are best told with no small amount of subtlety. Hit the audience over the head with effects, and you might as well be showing them a slasher film. And that’s what this one is, at times, replete with blood and guts and action, action, action. If you stop to think about what Miranda’s doing, you’ll realize how little of it makes any real sense.

Gothika is overwrought; its twists are broadcast so blatantly that you’ll feel like the electroshock therapy some of the patients at the institute receive. Bad guys? We got bad guys. You can usually scope out the bad guy at the beginning of a cheesy movie, because he’s the one who looks perfectly ok. Even if you don’t guess the bad guy’s identity early on, I’m betting you won’t be terribly surprised when you do find out who it is.

On paper, this must have seemed like a great career choice for Berry, but like Catwoman, this is not a shining moment for her. And don’t fool yourself – this is a Halle Berry event all the way. Those other guys in the movie? Interchangeable. I’ll admit that Downey, Jr. turns in a – shall we say – more mature performance than he did during his heyday, but perhaps that’s a result of all those drugs and drying-out periods.

Gothika’s poorly written but competently acted and directed – considering the script. It’s as if Miranda merely moves from setpiece to setpiece without really solving or accomplishing anything until VOILA!!! she figgers it all out. As you will, too.

Gothika: **

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