Thursday 14 December 2006

Thursday 14 December 2006
GOTHIKA (2003)
DIRECTOR: Mathie Kassovitz
WRITER: Sebastian Gutierrez
CAST: Halle Berry (Miranda Grey), Robert Downey Jr (Pete Graham), Charles S. Dutton (Dr Douglas Grey), Penelope Cruz (Chloe Sava), Bernard Hill (Phil Parsons), John Carroll Lynch (Sheriff Ryan), Dorian Harewood (Teddy Howard), Bronwen Mantel (Irene), Matthew G. Taylor (Turlington), Michael Perron (Joe) & Andrea Sheldon (Tracey Seavers)

A gifted psychiatrist wakes up to find herself imprisoned in the asylum where she works; with no memory of how she got there, or why she was sectioned...

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.

The script by Sebastian Gutierrez has an intriguing premise that could have resulted in a labyrinthine plot about memory and insanity, with dashes of the supernatural thrown into the mix. Sadly, Gutierrez's story never provides the warped delirium required, and quickly devolves into an implausible chiller with a mystery that's only mysterious if you've never seen any spooky thrillers in your life.

Halle Berry (cursed post-Oscar success to star in turkeys?), plays psychiatrist Miranda Grey. Dr Grey is our heroine; a sexy woman in a tight skirt who works in an asylum styled by the Addam's family, with the strange habit of taking a nightly swim in the asylum's swimming pool! One night, travelling home during a thunderstorm, Miranda has a ghostly encounter (the film's only truly freaky sequence), and wakes up to find herself accused of murder following temporary insanity.

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".

Gothika is guilty of numerous contrivances and formulaic tripe. I particularly cringed when a security guard lets Mirando take his car keys without raising the alarm because... well, he likes her and watched her swim after work sometimes! Never mind the fact she's an escaped crackpot killer, eh? Also, the problem of a small cast in a mystery film also rears its ugly head, as it's clear ONE of them wil be the villain (in true Scooby Doo style.)

Mathie Kassovitz doesn't embarass himself totally as director, as nothing is particularly bad visually, it's just that the story is bland, unoriginal and Kassovitz doesn't do anything interesting. Strangely, music video director Thom Oliphant is credited as having provided "added scenes", which could mean the odd good fright wasn't even courtesy of Kassovitz (the fiery ghost, the swimming pool sequence?) But who knows...

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!