Movie Review: Gothika

USA, Mathieu Kassovitz (2003)

Gothika is a Stephen King meets The Sixth Sense set in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest kind of movie, and it doesn’t really succeed on any account. While the setting of a gothic prison for the criminally insane is suitably creepy and lends itself well to lots of interesting cinematography, visuals alone cannot a masterful thriller make.

Halle Berry stars as a criminal psychologist who works in the prison one day and wakes up the next on the other side of the protective glass. Her husband has been brutally murdered and all the evidence points in her direction, but she has no recollection of anything. A former colleague (Robert Downey Jr.) becomes her doctor, former patients (including Penelope Cruz) become fellow inmates and everyone thinks she’s crazy, herself included, as she begins to hear voices and see ghosts.

Once Halle wakes up in prison and grapples with her situation, namely having to convince others of her sanity while trying to understand what happened that fateful night, the movie veers straight into the spook house. Things pop out at her (and the us) from off-screen time and again, often accompanied by a soundtrack that punctuates each scare with a scream from the actress, an explosion of music or both. At one point, the music built up to–absolutely nothing, which drew an unintentional laugh (one of many) from the audience.

Silly plot contrivances rolled into bad dialogue (more laughter), a resolution that could have come from an episode of Night Gallery, and a generic murder mystery ending all left me grateful I’d seen this one for free. It looks good, the cinematography is impressive and occasionally inventive, though a dark and monochromatic palette may make it difficult to watch once it’s released on DVD. Judging from the screams in the audience, it has enough “gotchas” to make it a scary movie. But there were just as many times when the crowd was laughing at the movie, not with it, and for good reason.

Here’s the Gist: If you want to “see dead people,” rent The Sixth Sense. Even on repeated viewings, it’s got to better than dropping $9 bucks for this “new” movie. [*]

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