French director Mathie Kassovitz has spent most of his career appearing as minor characters in films such as Asterix & Obelix and Spileberg's Munich, but with Gothika he got his shot at Hollywood stardom. Unfortunately he missed the mark with a by-the-numbers supernatural chiller with very little originality on display.
To be fair, Berry's not the real problem here. She does her best with the thin material and gives a decent performance as the wrongly accused. She's crippled, as are all the actors (even Downey Jr can't elevate this squib), by the film's total reliance on cliches. Flickering lights, ghostly footprints, thunderstorms, it's all here. And while these elements are expected in such chillers, they're usually background atmosphere. But Gothika has so little going on with its characters or plot, the atmospherics become the focus.
Robert Downey Jr is totally wasted and doesn't have enough screentime, or link to the film's main plot, to squeeze out a decent performance. Charles S. Dutton and Bernard Hill don't really do much beyond deliver lines competently. Penelope Cruz is perhaps the only person trying to deliver a great performance, clearly thinking she's in an awards contender and not a risible B-grade horror. Unfortunately, Cruz's role is just a pointless extended cameo anyway.
Clearly influenced by a zillion forebearers, Gothika is a patchwork of better movies dealing with similar subject matter. If you've seen one posession/ghost story with a serial-killer to unmask, you've seen them all. The makers of Gothika clearly have, and no attempt is made to provide any original spins on the subject matter. Actually, once the hope of an interesting film is extinguished (the moment Berry is freed from her cell by a ghost who only recently threw into walls for no logical reason), it's mild fun to second-guess the film's "twists".
Overall, Gothika is very disappointing, but adequate late-night viewing if you're in the mood for something forgettable and unintentionally stupid. There's the odd jump-scare, but this film has been done much better many, many times before. And no, I still have no idea what the title refers to!