An expert psychiatrist working in a hospital for the mentally disturbed, Miranda
Grey (Halle Berry, painfully miscast) is a master at deducing the logical mind
and separating fact from fiction. Driving home one rainy night, Miranda finds a
bloodied little girl standing in the road. As she tries to help the child,
Miranda blacks out, and when she wakes up three days later she finds herself a
prisoner in her own hospital. Learning from a co-worker (Robert Downey Jr.) that
she has murdered her husband (Charles Dutton) with an axe, Miranda has only violent memories and reappearances
of the ghostly girl as clues to what really happened that night.
Usually a Halloween staple, Dark Castle Entertainment decided to change things
up this year due to heavy competition - a certain chainsaw massacre that
happened in Texas -- and move their new chiller, "Gothika," (IMDb listing) to a Thanksgiving
release. Dark Castle specializes in low-budget horror films that all share
common traits: they are cast with a bevy of B and C-level talent ("House On
Haunted Hill"), feature ample ghosts and blood ("Thirteen Ghosts"), and are
usually set in one area to save money on locations ("Ghost Ship"). "Gothika" is
a slight change of direction for the company, as they've snagged A-lister Halle
Berry to star, fresh off her Oscar winning turn in "Monster's Ball," along with
convincing French director Matthieu Kassovitz ("The Crimson Rivers," but best
known as the object of desire in "Amelie") to helm what was once a B-list horror
film, but now has loftier ambitions with its sudden surge in filmmaking
pedigree. It should've stayed B-list.
Kassovitz is a talent, no disputing that, but his Hollywood debut reeks of
desperation to maintain his vision even as he's copping out to the easy lay
horror fans that show up for anything with a psycho in the mix. Kassovitz is a
sleek stylist, and the opening scenes of the film display the filmmaker trying
to build dread and creepiness efficiently: playing with sudden stops in the
soundtrack, milking the supernatural elements of the tale, and making the asylum
as big a character as Miranda. I enjoyed these moments and was excited for
Kassovitz to turn this deeply and resoundingly routine thriller on its ear. But
halfway through the film, something as unseen as the paranormal girl haunting
Miranda stops Kassovitz in his tracks, and the film tumbles mightily from the
hill of invention. Suddenly, "Gothika" is all about cheap, nonstop "boo!" scares
and worthless shock cuts.
To make matters worse, "Gothika" is a film about common sense and
awareness, yet Kassovitz and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez drop some pretty
large logic-bending bombs to keep their story running. The biggest whopper
features a security guard who assists Miranda during one of her escape attempts.
It's not like this guy has been working around the criminally disturbed for
decades or anything, right?
The second half of the film gives way to gigantic holes in the plot and clownshoes screenwriting just to
wheeze its way to the safety of a suspense or action sequence. Kassovitz
takes away any real sense of danger or logical boundaries, rendering his own
film a tedious bore as it slowly peters out of interesting ideas.
When the ending finally does arrive, you'll want to cover your eyes right away,
and not out of fear. The climax to "Gothika" is a horrendous cop-out, meant only for those who live off the singular ideal that
anything to end a movie on a happy note is a good thing. Reason goes by the
wayside, along with several supporting characters and a general appreciation for
the filmmaking process. Whatever potential the film had to start with is a
distant memory as the picture ends up promising, or should I say threatening, a
future franchise for the ghost busting Miranda.
Filmfodder Grade: D