Main cast: Halle Berry (Miranda Grey), Robert Downey Jr (Pete Graham), Charles S Dutton (Dr Douglas Grey), John Carroll Lynch (Sheriff Ryan), Bernard Hill (Phil Parsons), and Penélope Cruz (Chloe Sava)
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Gothika starts out as a psychological thriller, mutates into a ghost story sometime after its one hour mark, and turns into an illogical train wreck by its last minute. It’s like taking a train ride from Okay to Stupid to Downright Rubbish.
Dr Miranda Grey seems to have everything at first. She has a loving husband in Douglas who also happens to be the director of the Connecticut asylum for the insane where she works as the resident psychiatrist. With a nice career, a great husband, what can go wrong, right?
One night she takes a longer detour on her way home during a thunderstorm. Well, they always do stupid things like this in this type of movies. She swerves her car to avoid hitting a half-naked woman standing in the middle of the road. Dazed, she climbs out of the car to investigate, only to scream as the woman bursts into flames. Miranda passes out after the experience. When she regains consciousness, she’s back at the asylum, only this time she’s at the wrong side of the bars. She’s now a patient in the asylum. She also learns that she had brutally axed her husband to death that night she drove home, apparently after she has passed out. Oh dear, what is going on?
The first thing that struck me is how much Halle Berry is overacting in her role. Most painful is her scream. Mathieu Kassovitz seems to have instructed Ms Berry to scream at the top of her voice every time a gate slams or she opens a door or – hell, judging from the context in which Miranda screams again and again, Mr Kassovitz probably told Ms Berry to just scream whenever she felt like it, damn context. Or maybe she is screaming because she realizes as filming progresses just how much this movie sucks lemons as if lemons are running out of style. The trouble is, Ms Berry isn’t a convincing horror movie scream queen. Some, like Jamie Lee Curtis, can scream and send terror down the audience’s spine. Ms Berry screams and I want her to suck on a roll of sock. When she’s not screaming, she acts in a very overwrought manner, over-enunciating and exaggerating her movements until Gothika feels like a parody.
More watchable is Robert Downey Jr, but from this man’s track record, he can salvage even the most unwatchable material with his easy charm. This easy charm also makes him a more threatening villain than any redneck caricature (which is what the actual villain of this movie is), and it is a darned shame that this movie fails to utilize that man fully. I don’t know what Penélope Cruz is doing in this movie and I wonder whether her character’s incoherent babblings about being raped by the devil has anything to do with a her involvement with a certain Mr Cruise. The movie’s make-up department seems to labor under the delusion that giving Ms Cruz and Ms Berry some bad hair is enough to make these women seem crazy. Well, the make-up department must be the crazy ones here.
But at the end of the day, Gothika‘s biggest flaw is not the overwrought acting from its lead actress but its rambling and incoherent script filled with plot holes. Very little make sense when I reflect on this movie after discovering the plot twists and turns by the end of the movie. This movie relies on the characters’ often irrational silence to prevent crucial information from spilling out until late in the movie, which makes the whole Halle Berry screaming thing even more irritating because if only that Chloe creature talks, Miranda won’t have to scream when she opens a drawer, when she walks into a hallway and sees nothing (ooh, that’s so scary), when she opens a locked vault door, and when she’s being battered in the head by mean old me and my rolling pin of doom.
For cheap and easy scares that come mostly from an incoherent plot and one’s fear for one’s eardrums, the stinka Gothika can’t be beat.