Movie Information

Genre: Horror
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles S. Dutton, Penelope Cruz
Rated: R

While Gothika isn’t nearly as scary as The Cat in the Hat, it’s considerably funnier. (If only these two movies could just swap places!) Being funny is not, of course, the typical goal in a horror thriller — though that doesn’t mean the results can’t be entertaining.

Such is the case with Gothika, as silly and transparent an attempt at the genre as can be imagined. That, however, is exactly what make it a fun cinematic experience. I can’t in good conscience call it a good movie — but neither can I say that I didn’t enjoy the amalgamation of inanities that comprise it.

Horror films ask for a suspension of disbelief, and Gothika is no exception. Indeed, it starts off asking us to accept the idea of Halle Berry married to Charles S. Dutton. Impossible? Of course not — though it’s hardly the epitome of likelihood. Then again, we’re given this information after we’ve already been treated to an encounter by Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) with Penelope Cruz as mental patient Chloe Sava (wherein we hear Chloe expound on her sexual tryst with the devil: “He opened me up like a flower of pain. And I liked it!”).

As with all of Cruz’s English-language performances, it’s hard not to wonder if her lines have been learned phonetically — though the dialogue itself sounds like something out of Aleister Crowley’s pornographic Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden being followed up by Piper Laurie in Carrie. And really, doesn’t that sound just too over-the-top not be enjoyable for its own sake?

Gothika is nothing if not over-the-top — so much so that it seems to take place in a universe all its own. The bulk of the story takes place in one of those institutions for the criminally insane that you’re hard-pressed to believe exist outside of the movies. In other words, the film simply oozes atmosphere, with dark corridors and an electrical system that is to wiring what the pipes in the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre are to the art of plumbing.

Anyone who wasn’t already ’round the bend probably would be after a few days in this place — so it’s not hard to believe that Miranda might be a little gaga herself when she has a close encounter of the strange kind with what appears to be the spirit of Rachel Parsons (Kathleen Mackey). Miranda next seems to burst into flames, awakening to find herself incarcerated in the very facility where she’d worked as a staff shrink, and learning that she’s charged with taking an axe to her saintly husband (whose goodness is laid on with a trowel) and hacking him into little pieces. The deceased’s best buddy, Sheriff Ryan (John Carroll Lynch, The Good Girl), even gets to tell Miranda that he had to pick up the bits and put them in a bag.

OK, there are a lot of believability problems here. To begin with, the folks at the institute seem to be an awfully chummy bunch, making it a real stretch that Miranda doesn’t recognize Rachel’s specter, since Rachel turns out to be the daughter of staff member Phil Parsons (Bernard Hill, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Further, Rachel would seem to be about the last person any self-respecting serial killer would take on — as the plot finally has it — since a connection to the killer could be too easily made.

Then there’s the ethical question of Miranda’s being clapped into the care of doctors and nurses she worked with — not to mention the safety issue raised by her being tossed in with her former patients. Does any of this make any sense? Yet, in a screwy way, that’s what makes the film strangely appealing — along with a truly laughable climactic sequence topped off by the notion that, apparently, supernatural activities are coin of the realm in a court of law.

Go with Gothika as being just too absurd for words. Immerse yourself in its jaw-dropping improbabilities. You might even go so far as to admire the atmosphere generated by director Mathieu Kassovitz. If you can do all that, you’ll have some fun with it.

Myself, I’m just waiting to be able to use the destined-to-be-classic line: “I’m not delusional! I’m possessed!”

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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