Warner Bros. Pictures
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
Written by Sebastian Gutierrez
Produced by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis and Susan Levin
Starring Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz, Charles
S. Dutton, Kathleen Mackey, Bernard Hill and John Carroll Lynch
(out of four)
There’s a line near
the end of “Gothika” where Halle Berry utters, “Logic
That seems to be the overriding philosophy behind this latest offering
from French-born director Mathieu Kassovitz, an absolute mess of
a film that abandons any semblance of cohesive storytelling in favor
of amateurish sensationalism.
In the process, the film wastes the considerable talents of Kassovitz,
Berry and Robert Downey Jr. as it spins wildly out of control with
a train wreck of old, overused ideas, none of which can sustain
the momentum of the story.
Can you even call this a story?
The film stars Berry as Dr. Miranda Grey, a successful psychiatrist
who specializes in treating the mentally ill. She works in a state
penitentiary with her husband and boss, Douglas (Charles S. Dutton),
and a close colleague, Pete Graham (Downey).
(A role like this makes you wonder if Berry is ever going to try
a serious dramatic role again, following her Oscar-winning turn
in 2001’s “Monster’s Ball.”)
After working late one night on the case of one of her main patients,
Chloe (Penelope Cruz), Grey begins heading home on—all together
now, folks—a dark and stormy night.
On her way driving home, she nearly hits a young girl standing in
the middle of the road. Dr. Grey’s car rams into a tree and
she gets out to see if the girl is OK. When Grey does try to help
her, the girl screams and suddenly sets ablaze—and then we
fade to black.
The next thing Dr. Grey knows, she wakes up three days later and
finds herself imprisoned in a glass cell of her own penitentiary.
Oh, the irony!
Not only that, but she has been accused of her husband’s murder.
From there, the mystery unfolds—or tries to, at least. As
Miranda tries to prove her innocence while everyone else just thinks
she’s gone mad, she remains haunted by the ghost of the girl
in the street. Though Grey is your standard, logic-based cynic,
as she puts it, “I don’t believe in ghosts…but
they believe in me.”
Now, now, stop your snickering. Just imagine how hard it must have
been for Berry to recite that line without cracking a smile.
As there is no chance of convincing anyone of her sanity, Grey takes
matters into her own hands, even trying to escape from the psych
ward, Sarah Connor-style.
As the story progresses, it grows more and more complex, but in
doing so becomes unnecessarily convoluted, nonsensical and finally,
just plain foolish.
There’s a certain amount of tolerance that’s always
needed for certain film genres—action movies, horror movies,
monster movies and, of course, holy-crap-the-earth-is-about-to-explode
movies. Such is the case with a movie like “Gothika,”
but even the most lenient filmgoer will likely have a problem suspending
his or her disbelief for very long on this one.
Perhaps screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez was just trying to do too
much with the story—after all, the ingredients are all there
for a decent enough popcorn thriller.
But the simple fact of the matter is that the movie doesn’t
make much sense. In the middle of the film, we discover a bizarre
connection between Miranda’s case and that of Chloe, a sexually
abused patient who claims that she has been having sex with the
devil himself. Why the connection? Who knows. Its importance is
never explained—it only serves as an easy plot device to get
to the final act and climax of the story. Who needs an explanation
It’s almost as if the filmmakers weren’t even trying
to make this movie intelligible. What happens in the film happens
because they say so—no further meaning or explanation is needed.
Some of the tools were there, of course. Kassovitz is a talented
director who proved he can bring the macabre to glorious life in
2000’s excellent “The Crimson Rivers.” His cinematographer
on “Gothika,” Matthew Libatique, has done brilliant
work on such films as “Requiem for a Dream” and “Pi.”
The visual style is definitely apparent in their latest attempt—and
if anything, it creates the kind of creepy mood and atmosphere that
masks the inadequacy of the script—but only for a while.
They just can’t redeem the film by themselves. The plot unfolds
in ridiculous ways, absurd coincidences are never explained, plot
twists are merely cheap copouts and the basic plot is rendered meaningless
as all of the film’s payoff sequences ruin any chance at a
sensible or even acceptable story.
I don’t care what any psychiatrist says—after seeing
this movie, I’d say logic is severely underrated.