Horror review: Gothika

gothika15

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 27, 2003

I got my first hint that Gothika might be a bad movie from the hokey newspaper ad, which depicts a shocked and dishevelled-looking Halle Berry staring out from behind a pane of wet glass, the words not alone carved across the underside of her forearm. Then there’s the image’s accompanying tag line: ”Because someone is dead doesn’t mean they’re gone.”

Gee, what a revelation!

But the most worrisome aspect of the Gothika ad comes lower down, where the credits signify the film as a production of Dark Castle Entertainment, the company behind such dreadful fright flicks as House on Haunted Hill, Thir13en Ghosts, and Ghost Ship. With a track record like that, a horror fan could be forgiven for thinking that Dark Castle’s latest would be another unmitigated stinker.

Fortunately, it’s just mediocre.

Berry stars as dedicated criminal psychologist Miranda Grey, employed at a Connecticut mental institution where the dingy corridors are forever tinged icy blue—unless, of course, the power goes out, as it inevitably will. We first meet Grey as she’s trying to help tormented patient Chloe Sava (Penélope Cruz), who claims she’s been raped in her cell by the devil. The dedicated doctor works late into the night on Sava’s file, then heads home in the midst of a fierce thunderstorm.

Although she’s supposed to be quite smart, Grey gabs on her cellphone while driving too fast in the torrential downpour and gets distracted enough that she barely avoids plowing into a ghostly, half-naked figure in the middle of the road. The shaken but concerned doctor tries to assist the trembling, bedraggled girl—who’s a blond version of that freaky drenched chick who crawls out of the TV in The Ring—but when she touches her the girl screams and burst into flames, spontaneous combustion–like.

Grey wakes up three days later to find that she’s a drugged-up prisoner in her own workplace, and that she’s been charged with the axe murder of her supposedly loving husband (Charles Dutton), the institution’s director. Robert Downey Jr. flutters around as a slightly creepy therapist who has the hots for Grey, and you’re supposed to wonder if he had something to do with her mate’s demise.

The rest of the film is Berry in a hospital gown, being spooked, slashed, and tossed around like a rag doll by that pesky blond ghost. When she’s not getting brutalized or forcefully injected with drugs, Grey frantically tries to prove her innocence and solve the puzzle of the ass-kicking apparition, her valiant efforts eventually leading to a shocking surprise.

But the same story was told much more skillfully—and with a lot more scares—three years back, when it was called What Lies Beneath.

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