Gothika Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
November 24th, 2003

Planet Sick-Boy:
"We Put the SIN in Cinema"

© Copyright 2003 Planet Sick-Boy. All Rights Reserved.

A silly cross between Tru Calling and What Lies Beneath, Gothika is a horror film that's way funnier than Scary Movie 3. That might not be such a bad thing if, say, Gothika was trying to be a comedy. But it's not. It thinks it's scary, and that only makes it funnier.

The first 10 minutes should have any film veteran howling and/or convulsing, as it clumsily introduces every character and situation you know will, at some point, become a pivotal device in Our Protagonist's battle against her various celluloid obstacles. She's Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry, X2), a shrink at New England's Woodward Penitentiary for Women. We quickly learn Miranda enjoys daily swims in the prison pool, that she's chummy with the guard at the front desk, and that the facility has frequent power failures. Hmmmm...

Like any respecting horror film, it's always dark and rainy (even indoors!) wherever Miranda goes, and that includes a crazy trip home that sees her swerve her car around what has become a cliché of the genre - the girl standing in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. Miranda crashes the car and staggers out to help the still-motionless girl, only to see something fairly nutty when she gets within grabbing distance.

The next thing you know, Miranda wakes up in one of Woodward's cells, accused of killing her husband (Charles S. Dutton). When she explains what happened, the prison staff shoots her full of more mind-bending drugs (the staff being led by mind-bending drug king Robert Downey Jr.). When Miranda begins to have violent encounters with the Statue Girl (Kathleen Mackey), she is "led" to a series of strange, scary places a young, black woman would never, ever go. Even if R. Kelly begged.

The story, penned by Judas Kiss writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez, is unintentionally hysterical from start to finish. It's full of laugh-out-loud dialogue and setups that haven't been remotely frightening for 20 years. Why people still jump and scream when they see something malevolent standing behind the main character as they look in a mirror is beyond me. Unless you're three, you should know it's coming.

Gothika is directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, who is probably best known as Amélie's love interest. But Kassovitz has directed a handful of European films, too, most notably La Haine (Hate), which he wrote, directed and edited (it won three Césars and Best Director at Cannes). This is his first English-language venture, and the effort features a few interesting twists. Between Kassovitz and photographer Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream) manipulating the sound and deviously using an black, imageless screen, I was convinced the film had either broken or melted two or three times (and, honestly, I was kind of hoping it did...almost every time). But there's only so much lipstick they can put on this pig of a story, in which Penélope Cruz (Vanilla Sky) comes off as an acting heavyweight. Ugh.

1:33 - R for violence, brief language and nudity

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