Prevailing critical wisdom maintains that “Gothika” is an effective supernatural thriller for the first hour but unravels into a chuckleheaded mess in the course of the second. I have to disagree with my brother and sister reviewers in this case. “Gothika” is a chuckleheaded mess from start to finish.
It didn’t take Oscar winner Halle Berry long to get the hang of doing what Oscar winners do. Namely taking advantage of their heightened bankability to get rich cranking out quickly forgotten clunkers. I’m forgetting this one as I write. As best I can recall, the actress plays a prison psychiatrist who sees dead people.
After a hard day of treating flamboyantly psychotic murderers like Penelope Cruz, Berry heads for home in a traditional supernatural thriller rainstorm. Out of nowhere, a bedraggled, soaking wet blonde appears in the middle of the road causing the nonplused mental health professional to swerve into a ditch and then go home and ax murder her nonplused husband (Charles Dutton.)
Berry wakes to find herself a prisoner in the same psycho ward where she previously worked. She has no memory of the crime, no motive for committing it and no idea why the bedraggled blonde girl she almost ran over keeps popping up and scrawling the cryptic message “not alone” everywhere.
Robert Downey Jr. here does what stars do when their personal problems have become better known than their work. Namely attempt to restore their bankability by taking small parts and not screwing up. He costars as a fellow shrink who tries to figure out what’s happening to his old friend but doesn’t buy her ravings about the blonde girl bursting into flame, taking over her body to chop up Dutton and sometimes stopping by to unlock her cell door in the middle of the night.
Unknown director Mathieu Kassovitz attempts to convince the audience there’s more to his movie with the help of a few semi-snazzy effects and some atmospheric art direction but the truth is there’s nothing in “Gothika” we haven’t seen in other flashy but vapid horror releases and the whole story really boils down to just a handful of questions:
* What, for example, does the dead girl want from Berry? Anyone who’s seen “The Sixth Sense” will realize immediately that she wants to direct her to the person or persons responsible for her death.
* If murdered children can come back from the dead and take control of peoples’ bodies in a quest for justice, why don’t they just take over the body of the person who murdered them and make them confess? Wouldn’t that be far more considerate than forcing innocent parties like Berry to filet the offenders and then rot in jail for doing so?
* If she can write “not alone” all over the place, why can’t the dead girl just come out and say what’s on her mind instead of scrawling hokey hints?
* The murders in question here have been committed over a period of many years. If murdered young women have the option to come back from beyond the grave and join Crimestoppers, why hasn’t one done so before now? If one of them had, maybe the poor bedraggled blonde girl would never have been killed and Halle Berry would never have been forced to take a group prison shower with Penelope Cruz. Hmm. On the other hand, who am I to question God’s plan?
* What the hell does “Gothika” mean anyway?
Sure, the notion of a psychiatrist waking up on the wrong side of a cell door and having zero idea what she did to get there is a provocative premise. Had Kassovitz and company gone anywhere novel and sensible with it, they might have had something. The best they were able to manage, apparently, was a grabbag of spectral sights and spooky touches grabbed from better horror films and a final act that raises more questions than it answers. When all is said and done, should you feel slightly foolish and more than a little bamboozled, don’t worry.
You’re not alone.
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