Gothika Review

by Andy Keast (arthistoryguy AT aol DOT com)
April 13th, 2004

Gothika: * out of ****

Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez. Starring Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, John Carroll Lynch, Bernard Hill and PenÚlope Cruz.

by Andy Keast

This movie is the cinematic equivalent of a party guest switching a ceiling light on and off, laughing at himself. Leave it to this film to be set almost entirely in a mental hospital and have absolutely nothing to do with mental illness, but instead make the psychotic behavior of it's characters the result of ghosts, hauntings and possession. The visual sensibilities of Mathieu Kassovitz's "Gothika" are distilled from the most creatively bankrupt efforts of most music video directors. The screenplay is stuck in the Middle Ages, obeying the prime directive of all overcooked Hollywood product: be violent and
titillating enough to please adults, and at the same time simple enough for even the most distracted child to understand. Here the awfulness attains a kind of brilliance.

Halle Berry is badly miscast as a psychiatrist, perhaps one of the most embarrassing and unintentionally funny roles since Elisabeth Shue pretended to be a nuclear physicist in "The Saint." She struggles through lines that must read like the textbook to an intro to criminology. This, apparently, is what happens after she wins an Academy Award and her agent encourages her to ask for
22 million on her next picture. She, PenÚlope Cruz and Robert Downey Jr. move through a ridiculous "thriller" plot, laced with clues that are placed so clearly and obviously in plain view, so as not to confuse the most indelibly stupid audience member. Meaningless set pieces are crafted, where cameras sweep and dolly like mad without any thought behind the function or purpose of their respective scenes. To say nothing about the character played by John Carroll Lynch, whose role somehow manages to be both a plot hole and an extraneous *deus ex machina.* What is an actor like Bernard Hill doing here?
And that is only the beginning. Matthew Libatique, a gifted cinematographer, has somehow been whored into setting a new record for Highest Number of Flickering Lights in a Movie. Everything -*everything*- flickers in this film.
The poster should've come with a warning label for people with epilepsy. There is that ancient staple of all modern horror films: the flickering fluorescent lights, which are somehow able to stop flickering and then begin again on cue. There are several scenes of strobe-effect lightning,
by prop people dumping god knows how many thousands of gallons of movie rain on
beguiled actors. The flashbacks flicker on and off as well, in (yawn) music video montages underscored by snyth and digitally-altered screaming. Even headlights flicker. The movie apparently inhabits the same universe as "The Matrix" or "Underworld" or the Highlander films: The Land of Perpetual Night, where there are never any scenes during the daytime and it's always raining -although you won't see anyone wearing sunglasses indoors (that would've been enough to throw me over the edge into permanent cerebral damage). I can't offer any explanation for the recent obsession with whiplash photography and editing except for an old standard: shorter audience attention spans that have been enflamed by masturbatory trifles such as video games and MTV, and the resulting urge to be bulldozed by stimuli. Advice to would-be filmmakers: it's
a movie, not a casino.

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