say your piece

158 20 NOVEMBER 2003
'Gothika' Captures Insanity by Making No Sense
By Chris Bellamy

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

Rated R
(out of four)

There’s a line near the end of “Gothika” where Halle Berry utters, “Logic is overrated.”

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. Bummer.

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 anyway, right?

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.

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