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 Critic's Rating
 Date Posted
   20th April, 2004
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Cast: Halle Berry, Penélope Cruz, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

Imagine this pitch: "Let us make a horror film, take marquee name actors, hire an inexpensive foreign director and apportion high-quality production values." The bit you are probably looking for here is also, arguably, the most integral part of any film – the story. Now assume you point out this staggering omission and then the pitch continues: "Ah yes, I see. Can I come back to you on this?" This is the predicament "Gothika" finds itself in – it is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse where the passengers endure the inconvenience of carrying the cart and then paying for it. And no amount of reprieve or refund (in this case Halle Berry's intense performance) will make the passengers' recollection of their experience any less unpleasant.

Based on a script that borrows heavily from "A Stir of Echoes," "The Sixth Sense" and about half-a-dozen horror stories cheaply available on paperback, the indistinct plot features Halle Berry as Miranda Grey, a "brilliant" psychiatrist who works in a state prison for the criminally insane. One stormy night on her way back home she encounters an apparition. Cut to the next scene, Miranda find herself as an inmate in the same prison for the brutal murder of her husband (Charles S. Dutton). Charged with insanity and with no memory of the events that have transpired over the last three days, Miranda struggles to convince her one-time colleague Pete Graham (a very sleepy Robert Downey Jr.) of her innocence and that there are more sinister forces at play. It seems only a fellow prisoner, Chloe (Penelope Cruz), understands her hurt. But what purpose does this character – like the others mentioned before her - serve except blatant exposition? If you have the answer, I'd be very interest to hear from you.

"Gothika" is directed by Mathieu Kassovitz who has helmed several successful French genre films. No stranger to visual gimmickry, Kassovitz tries every trick he learnt in film school. At many times during the film I thought I was watching a causeless, gothic music video that was plain style and more of it. We are treated to a barrage of cheap shocks that include, but not limited to, flickering lights, bloody bath-tubs and jarring musical cues. Is this all that the horror genre has to offer? In the face of a harebrain script the only logical alternative "Gothika" had was to take the route of self-depreciating humour. That would have made the film infinitely less frustrating. But because it doesn't we laugh where we shouldn't and yawn when we must gasp. Hardly anyone's definition of a "horror" film, eh?

Halle Berry – after her Oscar win for "Monster's Ball" - wants to be taken seriously as an actress. She'll need career therapy if she continues to headline drivel such as "Gothika" which is nothing but shallow entertainment of the highest order, delivered in prettiest packaging money and talent can afford. And you won't need a shrink to analyse that. - Adnan Khan

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