November 20th, 2003
Dark Castle Entertainment returns, though this time they think they have something a little more refined than their usual blood-and-ghosts-and-more-blood offering. A weak performance from Halle Berry and Mathieu Kassovitz’s slumming direction, along with some healthy logic hurdling, make sure this production doesn’t ever reach the A-List heights it desires.
An expert psychiatrist working in a hospital for the mentally disturbed, Miranda Grey (Halle Berry, painfully miscast) is a master at deducing the logical mind and separating fact from fiction. Driving home one rainy night, Miranda finds a bloodied little girl standing in the road. As she tries to help the child, Miranda blacks out, and when she wakes up three days later she finds herself a prisoner in her own hospital. Learning from a co-worker (Robert Downey Jr.) that she has murdered her husband (Charles Dutton) with an axe, Miranda has no recollections of the event, and with only the violent memories and reappearances of the ghostly girl as clues to what really happened that night.
Usually a Halloween staple, Dark Castle Entertainment decided to change things up this year due to heavy competition - a certain chainsaw massacre that happened in Texas - and move their new chiller, “Gothika,” to a Thanksgiving release. Dark Castle specializes in low-budget horror films that all share common traits: they are cast with a bevy of B and C-level talent (“House On Haunted Hill“), feature ample ghosts and blood (“Thirteen Ghosts“), and are usually set in one area to save money on locations (“Ghost Ship“). “Gothika” is a slight change of direction for the company, as they’ve snagged A-lister Halle Berry to star, fresh off her Oscar winning turn in “Monster’s Ball,” along with convincing French director Matthieu Kassovitz (“The Crimson Rivers,” but best known as the object of desire in “Amelie”) to helm what was once a B-list horror film, but now has loftier ambitions with its sudden surge in filmmaking pedigree. It should’ve stayed B-list.
Kassovitz is a talent, no disputing that, but his Hollywood debut reeks of desperation to maintain his vision even as he’s copping out to the easy lay horror fans that show up for anything with a psycho in the mix. Kassovitz is a sleek stylist, and the opening scenes of the film display the filmmaker trying to build dread and creepiness efficiently: playing with sudden stops in the soundtrack, milking the supernatural elements of the tale, and making the asylum as big a character as Miranda. I enjoyed these moments and was excited for Kassovitz to turn this deeply and resoundingly routine thriller on its ear. But halfway through the film, something as unseen as the paranormal girl haunting Miranda stops Kassovitz in his tracks, and the film tumbles mightily from the hill of invention. Suddenly, “Gothika” is all about cheap, nonstop “boo!” scares and worthless shock cuts. Kassovitz is a better director than this, which makes the distinct smell of laziness in chasing honest-to-God scares even more disappointing.
To make matters even worse, “Gothika” is a film about common sense and awareness, yet Kassovitz and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez drop some pretty large logic-bending bombs to keep their story running. The biggest whopper features a security guard who assists Miranda during one of her escape attempts. It’s not like this guy has been working around the criminally disturbed for decades or anything, right? In a less motivated thriller, I wouldn’t think twice on such a gap in logic. But the first half of the film is built on the fascinating war between the unknown vs. clinical mind, with the second half giving way to gigantic holes in the plot and clownshoes screenwriting just to simply wheeze its way to the safety of a suspense or action sequence. Kassovitz takes away any real sense of danger or logical boundaries, rendering his own film a tedious bore as it slowly peters out of interesting ideas.
When the ending finally does arrive, you’ll want to cover your eyes right away, and that’s not out of fear. The climax to “Gothika” is such a functionally retarded cop-out, meant only for those who live off the singular ideal that anything to end a movie on a happy note is a good thing. Reason goes by the wayside, along with several supporting characters and a general appreciation for the filmmaking process. Whatever potential the film had to start with is a distant memory as the picture ends up promising, or should I say threatening, a future franchise for the ghost busting Miranda.
My rating: D