Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
As far as shivery ghost stories and twist-driven murder-mysteries
go, "Gothika" is a classy, dread-filled production populated with
an above-average cast and plenty of namesake atmospherics. While some
of the plot turns are more predictable than others, the film is well-developed
and tautly paced, drenching the viewer in a pool of foreboding palpability.
One thing is for sure: it is easily the best feature to date from
Robert Zemeckis and Joel Silvers' specialty unit, Dark Castle Entertainment
(following 1999's "House on Haunted Hill," 2001's "Thirteen Ghosts,"
and 2002's "Ghost Ship").
Dr. Miranda Gray (Halle Berry) is a knowledgeable psychiatrist at
a Connecticut mental institution who, nonetheless, is having a hard
time getting through to disturbed current patient Chloe (Penelope),
who claims to have been raped by the Devil. "You have to trust me,"
pleads Miranda. "How can I trust you," replies Chloe, "when you think
I'm crazy?" On her way home in a violent rainstorm one night, Miranda
gets into a car accident after dodging a beaten teenage girl (Kathleen
Mackey) in the middle of the road. The next thing she knows, she has
woken up a patient in her own place of employment, accused with the
brutal murder of her husband, hospital director Douglas (Charles S.
Dutton). Wit h all of the evidence sure-footedly pointing toward her
but with no recollection of having committed the crime, Miranda must
take it upon herself to find out what happened. Meanwhile, she is
stalked by ghostly apparitions of the girl from the road, whom Miranda
knows has some sort of connection with her.
Moodily directed with care and style by Mathieu Kassovitz, "Gothika"
is an unusually smart horror film that takes its time setting things
up and raising the stakes, putting the viewer squarely alongside the
confused, distressed, and frightened Miranda. Recalling different
elements from 1999's "In Dreams," 1999's "The Sixth Sense," 2000's
"What Lies Beneath," and 2002's "The Ring," screenwriter Sebastian
Gutier rez puts enough of his own spin on the material to make it
feel fresh. And perhaps most welcome of all, obligatory "boo!" scares
are kept at a minimum, trusting the dark psychological aspects of
the story to produce the bulk of the suspense and a sense of unease.
In her first solely headlining role, Halle Berry (2001's "Monster's
Ball") is superb as the put-upon Miranda Gray, putting her already
proven lofty acting range to good use. Berry refuses to be just another
cliched horror movie heroine and, along with the assured writing,
injects her character with three dimensions and a veritable sympathetic
edge. As Chloe, whom Miranda befriends and begins to understand only
after she is placed with her in the asylum, Penelope Cruz (2001's
"Vanilla Sky") turns in a focused and touching, decidedly unglamorous
supporting performance. Also making an impression in a superlative
cast, Robert Downey Jr. (2000's "Wonder Boys") plays coworker Dr.
Pete Graham, who becomes Miranda's psychiatrist, and Bernard Hill
(2002's "The Scorpion King") is fellow hospital worker Phil Parsons,
who may or may not have ties with the central mystery.
Putting the gothic in "Gothika" is the sumptuous, ultra-creepy production
design by Graham "Grace" Walker (2002's "Queen of the Damned"), painting
the gray, gloomy, sterilized mental institution as a character in
and of itself. The stylish, swirling camerawork by cinematographer
Matthew Libatique (2002's "Abandon") is equally inspired, none more
so than in a flashback that constructs itself backwards and another
scene that uses t he camera to magnificent effect as the point of view of the ghost.
One of the most intriguing ideas "Gothika" has to offer is the notion
that, for all of their expertise in the psychology of the mind, the
psychiatrist don't know the first thing about connecting with their
patients. In order to understand them, you have to be put in their
place, as Miranda comes to learn all too well. Save for an unnecessary,
nonsensical final scene that suggests post-production reshoots ("Ghost
Ship" fell victim to the same thing, though on a more calamitous scale),
the film keeps its tension and expertly woven story trucking from
start to finish. For thrills and chills that do not rely on gory slasher
theatrics, "Gothika" is one of the stronger horror entries of the year.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman