Viewers can't escape from dopey 'Gothika'

Friday, November 21, 2003


Special to the Journal-World

Halle Berry stars as a criminal psychologist trapped in her own institution in the thriller "Gothika."

"We all create our own realities, to some extent," Halle Berry says in "Gothika."

It's just that some filmmakers create them better than others.

In this dismal thriller, Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a criminal psychologist who works in the psych ward of a penitentiary. There she tries to help female patients such as Chloe (Penelope Cruz), who claims to be molested by Satan.

Although the movie never specifies, one can assume the institution is located in Seattle, because that would explain why outside it's always gloomy and rainy. But it doesn't explain why this is the type of place where one room is impeccably sterile, then another is dirty and rat-infested, depending on the "spooky" demands of the script.

The building is also in need of a good electrician. The lights in every hallway and cell are constantly flickering. This can't be healthy for the patients who have epilepsy.

One night while driving home, Miranda has a close encounter with something otherworldly on an isolated bridge. When she wakes up days later, she is now a patient in her own hospital. It seems her husband/employer (Charles S. Dutton) has been brutally murdered -- and all evidence points to her.

From there it's a race to unlock the secrets of her ordeal before the ghostly images plaguing the doctor really do claim her sanity.

French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz ("The Crimson Rivers") relies on two types of scare tactics in "Gothika," both of which stem from the perspective of his lead character. First, he utilizes the old "Twilight Zone" favorite of a person at war with the loss of his/her identity. The talented Berry comes off best in scenes opposite a fellow coworker (a squirrelly Robert Downey Jr.) when trying to piece together her brittle memories.

Second, the director (and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez) falls back on the "crazy person who is seeing and hearing things." But the heroine's frequent apparitions are dominated by a wet, undead waif with stringy hair. As if this effigy weren't already thoroughly exploited in "The Ring."

The only excitement to be found in "Gothika" -- a title that is never once explained or even referenced, by the way -- are those times when the imprisoned doctor orchestrates an escape. Even these are more action-oriented scenes than horror-related.


Gothika * 1/2


In this dismal, poorly plotted thriller, Halle Berry plays a criminal psychologist who awakens as a patient in her own asylum with no memory of the murder she committed. There are few scares to be found in "Gothika" -- a title that is never once cited, by the way -- only recycled bits from other, better movies.

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Other than that, the movie never elicits much of anything: no thrills, chills, sighs or highs. It even manages to make a shower scene involving both Berry and Cruz completely boring.

"The ability to suppress is a vital survival tool," Dutton tells Berry when discussing the psychology of a patient.

That's also good career advice for an elegant, Oscar-winning actress who needs to forget this dud and proceed on to projects that will do her justice.