A review of “Gothika” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *

Rating: R for violence, language and nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

 

 

“Gothika” is an intriguing premise.  A dedicated criminal psychologist awakens to find herself a patient in her own mental institution, with no memory of the murder she’s apparently committed.  It’s going to be a really bad day.

Unfortunately, it’s a really bad movie.  Littered with clichés and lacking even a speck of originality, “Gothika” is yet another entry in the “If we build it they will come” horror sweepstakes, i.e. churn out another horror film and wallow in the ka-ching ka-ching.

Halle Berry is the unlucky star of this gothic snoozer.  She’s brilliant psychoanalyst Miranda Grey, who finds herself unexpectedly incarcerated for butchering her doctor husband with an axe.  But not before she dredges up snatches of dreams from that fateful night; of a dark and stormy drive, a detour over a rickety bridge, and a girl in the road who bursts into flames when Grey approaches to offer help.

Enter Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.) a devoted co-worker who finds himself in the awkward position of having Grey as a patient.  The two toss out clinical psycho-babble (“Ability to suppress is a vital survival tool”, etc.) while uneasily weighing the relative merits of science vs. the paranormal.  But something is not normal, and Grey is determined to find out what.

The clichés just keep on coming.  The rain-soaked highway, relentlessly flickering lights, computer screens that instantly display damning evidence, and of course the Meaningful Clue smeared in blood across the crime scene walls.

In between bogus jumps and loony hallucinations, Berry is encouraged by French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz to emote, wailing and flailing about like a banshee. Penelope Cruz has a small but pivotal role as a hyper-medicated inmate who spouts such devilish wisdom as “He opened me like a flower of pain, and I liked it!” Small saving grace in the form of the wry and skeptical Downey lends a smidgeon of credibility.

Production design is one giant stereotype of sinister – dark, peeling walls, bathtubs of blood and hidden torture chambers.  Nods to “The Sixth Sense” and “What Lies Beneath” smack of larceny.  “Gothika” is so lacking in mystery that I saw the resolution coming a mile off, and didn’t care a whit.