Gothika isn’t a horrible movie, but it seems it had more potential. Let me explain.

On that note, I should warn you: There are some plot points revealed in this review, so be ready for that.

Mathieu Kassovitz’ Gothika is a tricky movie to review, as it’s both halfway decent yet somewhat disappointing. What’s the basic premise? Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) is a happily married psychiatrist in a women’s mental hospital. She one day awakens as a patient accused of murdering her husband. Not bad so far, right? In fact, these aspects of the story have inherent potential.

However, in some ways, the story is weakened by its supernatural elements, and certain horror clichés. It’s another horror film that’s seemingly obsessed with night. For example, Grey gets in a car accident on a stormy night after narrowly avoiding a strange girl standing in the road. I hate to nitpick about anything, but I almost think this non-vampire movie could have used some daytime scares. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre proved this can work, and a host of other classic horror films. Hell, Joe Dante’s Piranha takes place overwhelmingly in daylight, and it’s better for it.

That aside, remember the “road girl” that Grey avoided the night she was hospitalized? Well, we quickly learn she was probably a ghost. Also, for whatever reason, this ghost is maliciously haunting her. I mean, it pretty much wreaks havoc on Miranda’s body, cutting the words “Not Alone” into her arm and thrashing her around. It’s some harsh stuff, but doesn’t quite add up in my mind. If the ghost wants her to understand something, why can’t it just appear to her and say it? It seems there’s a rule in typical movie “ghost-dom” which forbids rudimentary forms of communication. The process becomes inexplicable.

Ultimately, it makes this vengeful ghost look more like a villain than a possible hero, and less sympathetic as a result. Perhaps the idea is that Berry can’t cope with the possession and is hurting herself? I don’t know. It’s just interesting how rare it is to see a nice ghost. If anything, the fact she wants to convey a message should calm her down a bit. Perhaps carving vague messages into someone’s arm isn’t the best approach to communication. Ever think of that, any of you ghosts out there?

The Performances

What about the acting? Aside from Halle Berry, who does a good-to-great job as usual, Robert Downey Jr. seems to really phone it in as Dr. Pete Graham. Downey typically has screen presence in films, but here it seems likjust about anyone could have played the role, and almost better. While I hate to pick on him, I just think his heart wasn’t in this performance at all. Charles S. Dutton, who plays Miranda’s husband, Dr. Douglas Grey, does a better job, but he has so little screen time that it hardly matters. I try not to trash actors, but go ahead and watch Gothika and tell me I’m being unfair. Penélope Cruz is decent as a fellow inmate who’s less crazy than she initially appears. Still, she isn’t afforded much screen time, either. Probably the best performance besides Berry’s is that of John Carroll Lynch, as the nearly always unhinged Sheriff Ryan. However, he’s almost too over the top in his anger.

Really, the movie’s core strength is Berry’s commitment to the character, and a few decent scenes. For example, the swimming pool scene is pretty well done. It’s not even that scary, but definitely has a degree of intensity and paranoia. The story itself isn’t horrible, but it seems many of the characters and scares should have been explored a little more. Gothika is not as bad as it’s Rotten Tomatoes score suggests, but it seems to be missing some key ingredients. It’s sort of like a standard frozen pizza. It’s pretty good for what it is, but you know it’s not the best of its kind.

What are your thoughts on Gothika? Let us know in the comments!

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Wade Wanio is an author.

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