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Review byMatthew Turner29/03/2004

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 99 mins

Derivative mish-mash of other, better chillers, with performances by Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jnr that are better than the material deserves.

Is it a coincidence that Penelope Cruz’s split from Tom Cruise was announced the week before her new film opens? And if not, couldn’t they have waited until she was actually the lead in a movie, rather than a supporting character, or at least for a film in which she had more than five scenes?

At any rate, if the unseen hand of the publicity department is somehow involved in the fortuitous timing of that particular announcement, you can hardly blame them for trying, as Gothika pretty much needs all the help it can get, despite pretty decent performances from all concerned.

Brutal Murder And Intestinal Redecoration

Oscar Winner Halle Berry plays Dr Miranda Grey, a shit hot criminal psychologist attached to the psychiatric ward of the Woodward Penitentiary for Women. She also happens to be married to the director, Charles S. Dutton and nimbly avoids the flirtations of Dr Robert Downey Jnr on a daily basis.

However, after a scary roadside encounter with a girl who bursts into flames, Miranda wakes up to find herself on the wrong side of the asylum bars, accused of brutally murdering her husband and redecorating their delightful mansion with his intestines.

Proving that she’s quick off the mark when it comes to this psychoanalysis lark, Miranda quickly deduces that Something Sinister is going on, telling an understandably sceptical Downey Jnr that “I’m not mad, I’m just possessed”. However, since the asylum is chock-full of people also claiming they’re possessed (such as Penelope Cruz’s Chloe who says she’s the Devil’s Mistress or something), she pretty much has to get to the back of the queue for treatment, so she escapes, intent on doing a little self-exorcism by solving the mystery on her own.

Though the genre-combining premise (wrongly accused innocent with supernatural twist) of Gothika is a good one, the film fails to deliver and quickly collapses under the weight of its own inconsistencies – for example, if the ghostly girl is trying to help Miranda, why does she keep screaming at her and bouncing her off the walls? Also, why does she keep bursting into flames if she’s meant to have drowned?

Perhaps the most laughable example, however, is the final scene, in which – look away now if you don’t want to be spoiled – Chloe and Miranda are both best friends and apparently free to walk the streets, despite the fact that both are victims of possession, whether real or imagined.

Performances Better Than Film Deserves

Given the limitations of the script, Gothika is competently directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, though it never reaches the deliriously bonkers heights of his previous thriller, Crimson Rivers. It’s also suitably atmospheric, if hugely derivative of films such as The Sixth Sense, Stir of Echoes, What Lies Beneath etc.

The performances are a lot better than the film really deserves, particularly Berry and Downey Jnr. Also, Berry’s apparent insistence on a no-nudity clause results in an artfully-staged “collapse in communal shower” scene that has to be seen to be believed – given Berry’s propensity for kit-off behaviour in the past, one can imagine the producers gnashing their teeth in frustration…

Just occasionally, there is the odd touch or line that makes you think the whole thing might be deliberately tongue-in-cheek (such as Miranda’s line, “Logic is over-rated” as she blows someone away), but sadly that’s probably not the case. It remains watchable thanks to the performances and some of the shock effects, but you’re almost certainly better off waiting for the video.

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Content updated: 15/11/2019 08:56

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