- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

“Gothika” commits just about every mistake a botched thriller can, so it’s only fair to give credit where credit is due. The film’s November release makes compiling anyone’s worst-of-2003 list that much easier.

Halle Berry’s performance as a psychiatrist turned patient makes her famously overwrought Oscar speech seem restrained in comparison. Then again, nothing in director Mathieu Kassovitz’s film is exactly subtle.

Infuriatingly predictable, “Gothika” baldly steals from a raft of other, better horror movies. Rarely do big-budget thrillers exhibit such wholesale contempt for common sense.

Miss Berry stars as Miranda Grey, a gifted psychiatrist working alongside her husband (Charles S. Dutton) at a ghoulish prison facility. One night while driving home, Miranda swerves to avoid a young woman standing in the middle of the road.

Fade to black.

She wakes up three days later, imprisoned in one of the psychiatric cells she typically visits and with no memory of recent events. She soon learns her husband has been slain, and all the evidence points directly to her. Worse, she appears to have gone mad and thinks supernatural forces may be at play.

No one believes her pleas of innocence, not even fellow doctor Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr., coasting on his mercurial temperament). It’s up to her to account for the true events of the night in question before the mysterious forces come back for her.

It’s hard enough to buy “Gothika’s” main conceit — that a doctor turned patient would be treated by all her former colleagues — without also being expected to swallow that patients can roam the halls screaming without being intercepted and that no one cares if the building’s lights flicker every night.

Cinematographer Matthew Libatique conjures a potentially creepy labyrinth of corridors and rooms in the main facility, but the script and characters subvert the setting’s potential.

“Gothika’s” main scare generator, a young girl whose long, scraggly hair obscures her features, is a direct swipe from “The Ring’s” nemesis.

Thrillers hang themselves by clinging to the genre’s conventions. John Ottman’s pretentious score swells to epic proportions, and then … nothing. The film’s cheap scare count also climbs early and often, making the film’s one legitimate fright seem accidental.

“Gothika’s” final act makes even less sense than the setup, leaving Miss Berry alone with only her uncombed hair and trembling lips.

By the time Miss Berry’s character asks, “Do you think I’m crazy?” for the umpteenth time, even the most genteel filmgoer will be hard-pressed not to shout back at the screen.

And the less said about Penelope Cruz’s mad patient, the better. Let’s hope she downed a heaping helping of Tums after stuffing herself with all that scenery.

We should know enough to expect little from Miss Cruz. But for Miss Berry, the bar is set higher.

“Gothika” marks her first serious post-Oscar role, and it’s clear her upcoming “Catwoman” project has nowhere to go but up after this debacle.

*

WHAT: “Gothika”

RATING: R (Coarse language, horror-style violence, nudity)

CREDITS: Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, written by Sebastian Gutierrez. Produced by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Susan Levin. Music by John Ottman.

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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