Poor Halle Berry. Following her Oscar win for Monster’s Ball, she found herself in some truly awful duds. Obviously, Catwoman was the most notable turkey. After all, Catwoman did “win” several Golden Raspberry Awards. But Dark Tide and A Perfect Stranger weren’t particularly memorable either. And then there was supernatural thriller, Gothika. The fourth Dark Castle Entertainment release, Gothika represented the William Castle-inspired studio’s attempts to improve on past efforts. Though Ghost Ship, Thir13en Ghosts, and House On Haunted Hill have their supporters. none of these movies enamored themselves with critics. Like these movies, Gothika made some money but critics hated it.
After a late-night shift at a forensic psychiatric facility, Dr Miranda Grey nearly hits a woman standing in the middle of a storm-drenched road. Though Dr Grey tries to help the woman, she’s unresponsive, frightened, and hurt. And then Dr Grey inexplicably blacks out, waking up days later as a patient in the very hospital where she works. Someone murdered her husband with an axe and all the evidence points to one suspect – Dr Grey herself. With no memories of what happened after her near accident, Dr Grey struggles to convince former colleagues of her innocence – and sanity – as a seemingly supernatural force haunts her.
Gothika Promises a Fun Throwback Gothic Thriller It Can’t Deliver On
Gothika represents something of an odd mixed bag that defies easy categorization. Straight out of the gate director Mathieu Kassovitz establishes an early and chilling Gothic atmosphere befitting of the movie’s title. A foreboding hospital, a raging thunderstorm, and a dark stretch of isolated road – even if they feel familiar Gothika teases what could have been a fun throwback. But Gothika doesn’t so much go off course as it just increasingly burdens itself with other tangents. As the movie chugs along, screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez draws in mystery and investigation pieces alongside a twist that harkens back to gritty thrillers like 8MM. Moreover, Gothika tries to raise doubts about Miranda Grey’s sanity in an effort to deepen its psychological thriller roots.
But Gothika doesn’t so much go off course as it just increasingly burdens itself with other tangents.
Where Gothika goes wrong is Kassovitz’s inability to fuse all these elements together. All that early throwback promise gives way to what feels like a pretty standard thriller. Both the movie’s twist and its handful of jarringly violent images feel like they belong in a different movie. And some spotty special effects prevent Gothika from getting back on track whenever Kassovitz seems to be finding his footing again. It’s a tonally inconsistent supernatural thriller, which hurts things in the scares department.
Gothika Wastes a Top-Tier Cast with a Contrived Screenplay
In terms of casting, Gothika benefits from an embarrassment of riches, particularly considering its pulpy material. Regardless of some her movie choices, Halle Berry is never not good in any role. An immensely talented performer, Berry elevates the material and always makes you believe in her character’s plight. Even at its most silly moments, Berry keeps you in the palm of her hands. Today, it’s almost a bit of shock to see Robert Downey Jr in what’s really small supporting role. Gothika is reminder that pre-MCU, in the early 2000s, Downey was recovering from a career freefall. Still he’s always excellent when on screen. Veteran character actors Bernard Hill, John Carroll Lynch (American Horror Story: 1984), and Charles S Dutton are similarly good in everything. But Gothika wastes Hill and miscasts Dutton. Penepole Cruz is also excellent in what’s another wasted and thankless role.
…Halle Berry is never not good in any role.
Arguably, Gutierrez’s screenplay is the the real culprit. Aside from being very pulpy, Gothika suffers from some ridiculous plot contrivances and lapses in logic. You don’t have to know much about ethics and professional practice to guess that Dr Miranda Grey would never be hospitalized in the same facility where she worked. Or treated by her colleagues and friends. Things needs to be explained to characters even after they just witnessed what are clearly rather extraordinary events. And the events that must repeat themselves to get Dr Grey to where she needs to be in the story are pretty hard to swallow. The less said about the dialogue, the better.
Gothika Squeaks Past Most of Its Flaws to Entertain
Ultimately, there’s too much to like about Gothika to outright dismiss it. It’s a flawed movie that often shifts gears into directions that don’t work. Early atmosphere gives way to what’s a pretty scare-free mystery that then segues into some nasty subject matter with some unexpected flashes of grisly violence. If the story had stayed closer to a more traditional gothic thriller, Gothika would have been all the better for it. Gothika may not have rehabilitated either Berry’s career or Dark Castle Entertainment’s track record, but it offers enough for fans of 2000s horror.