More yawns than shrieks in Gothika


Nov. 27, 2003, midnight | By John Visclosky | 17 years, 1 month ago


It happens every year around Thanksgiving. People scramble to visit their families and gorge themselves on dry turkey and lumpy stuffing; babies cry, relatives are yell and you try to avoid that one creepy uncle hanging around the house. You run to the local Cineplex, praying for just a few hours relief from the holiday stress, and then the Powers That Be in Hollywood trick you into seeing a stinker of a movie because they know that you're starved for distractions and will see absolutely anything. Gothika, headlined by a painfully miscast Halle Berry, is this year's helping of bad turkey and lumpy stuffing mixed with a rotten script and egotistical direction.

Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) works at a prison for the criminally insane with fellow psychiatrist Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.), who follows Miranda around like a love-sick puppy. The hospital's chief administrator is Grey's husband Doug Grey (Charles S. Dutton). After Miranda finds a bloodied, weeping girl in the middle of a road during a rainstorm, she falls into a coma and awakens three days later in a cell in her own hospital. Learning from Graham that she has killed her husband, Miranda tries to discover what happened the night she met that little girl.

Gothika reeks of the self-important psychobabble that I thought Hollywood horror flicks had outgrown. Maybe writer Sebastian Gutierrez believed that if he filled his script with enough long-winded psychological explanations of insanity the audience would be distracted from the utter lack of plot or ingenuity. Or perhaps the filmmakers wasted too much of their money on flickering fluorescent lights to afford a better script. Why doesn't anyone in this movie call an electrician?!

Berry does little to support the movie. She seems to believe that if she stares wide-eyed at every single person and object she can find and screams at the top of her lungs every few seconds she will render a believable performance as a woman gone crazy. She is supposed to look and behave like a once-respected doctor hanging by the last thread of her own sanity, and yet, even after she is beaten, tortured and mutilated by the tiny dead girl stalking her, she still looks beautiful, her mascara and lipstick perfectly applied.

Robert Downey Jr. is sufferable as her fellow psychiatrist, but he doesn't really have much to do here. The complexities of their relationship could have been more deeply explored, but director Mathieu Kassovitz opted against this in favor of cheap "jump in your seat" scares.

Charles Dutton is woefully miscast as Berry's husband, and it comes as a tremendous relief when he dies two minutes into the film.

French director Kassovitz (last seen as French actress Audrey Taotou's love interest in the delightful Amelìe) makes his American debut with Gothika. He should have stayed in France, where he might have had the ability to take a little creative license with this meandering, by-the-books "thriller." Kassovitz is a talented actor but makes it apparent that to pump his directorial dream projects through the Hollywood meat-grinder he has been forced to dumb down his characters and scripts. He tries to make every shot meaningful and self-important, but his overbearing direction is too ham-handed in moments where subtlety would have been better.

Gothika fails on a number of levels, mostly because it seems to be trying too hard. The "trick" ending is a horrible cop-out that makes utterly no sense. The music quivers with violin trebles meant to be creepy but which end up being annoying. The script is filled with holes, occasionally slipping into unbelievable territory, as when a security guard helps Miranda escape from the prison… or when Charles S. Dutton marries Halle Berry. Just answer me this. Why would anyone who looked like Halle Berry marry the unattractive and grossly creepy Dutton?

Even if you are stuck at home babysitting cousins who puke all over you or getting tackled by the brothers who get all riled up watching a Thanksgiving football game or watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade with your mother (the most exquisite torture every devised), don't resort to seeing Gothika. Spending time with any family, no matter how dysfunctional, could never be as painful as watching this movie.



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John Visclosky. John Visclosky is, suffice it to say, "hardly the sharpest intellectual tool in the shed," which is why he has stupidly chosen to here address himself in the third person. He's a mellow sort of guy who enjoys movies and sharing his feelings and innermost … More »

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