Gothika (2003)

gothika-2“Gothika” is never sure if it wants to be a supernatural thriller, a psychological thriller or a murder mystery, and that’s pretty difficult to discern through the clichés and obvious plot devices given to the audience non-stop. Every bit of scenery is murky, dim, dull, bland, and dreary to create the effect of suspense, and while scenery matters with setting a mood in horror films, it’s also up to the director to set it, and here it seems the director relies only on scenery, scenery that is so predictable and hard to swallow. There’s the dark and stormy night (check), the cheap shocks that will presumably keep the audience more annoyed than actually scared (check), the very loud score intent on keep the audience in suspense when nothing follows (check!), especially in one really stupid moment where Berry’s character etches her way down a dark basement, and as she opens the door, the score goes slowly up higher! And higher! And higher! Until–! Nothing.

Nothing happens, which really left me wondering what the score was even for. There’s even the moment I dreaded in which the main characters screams “Why are you doing this to me?” (check!) yet another of horror movies’ many horror clichés that I just could barely stand to hear again, I even expected a cat to come screeching from a shelf somewhere which I fear may have happened if given enough time to the writers. And the mental institution that is always dark, the setting of the story, see the institution is having generator problems (how convenient), but even when the lights are on, everything is so dark, it’s hard to believe the mental institution’s nurses and doctors aren’t going nuts as well with the dim setting.

I’ve been the hospitals, they’re bright, the mood is pretty mid-level, even in the darkest places of a hospital there’s still a whole lot of light to keep a person awake, so who does the installation of lamps at the institution where our story lies? And then there are the showers where the patients go, and a small gymnasium where the patients seemingly walk around, but then later on they go to a yard and they–continue walking around (at least they put the paid extras to work!). What’s the point of that institution? For a high security facility there’s no security, seemingly no therapists, and hardly any nurses. The whole film is advertised as a horror/supernatural thriller when really it’s just another routine supernatural thriller with some violence to it. There are the usual ghosts, the usual shock scares that jolt the audience in their seat, the odd violence, the screaming demons, and dialogue like:

“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Neither do I, but they believe in me.”

As for Penelope Cruz, I have no idea what she’s doing here, and achieving top billing with the other stars to boot. Her character plays no purpose in the movie other than to share in the mayhem and create a sort of insane link from Berry’s character. With her horrible haircut, large bulgy black eyes, and dialogue that’s more laugh out loud funny than actually suspenseful, it’s just a wonder how she keeps getting work. She seems to be sharing the exact same torment Berry does but here she seems to take more of a sadomasochistic pleasure towards it, but what would account for her over-acting? Especially the pretty funny monologue in which Berry is interviewing her about the crime she committed that put her in that institution in the first place, her delivery of that one scene made me cringe and then to discover she’d actually be in a majority of the film, well, that put the fear of god in me more than anything this could muster up in its clichés.

With such an interesting concept executed so poorly, and the title Gothika which I’m still not sure what relevance it has to the story, it’s not hard to imagine why “Dark Castle” Entertainment stays in the background. The cast that is in the film is also never used correctly with Robert Downey Jr. whose acting abilities are squandered with a bit supporting part where he has a hint of a suggested sub-plot with Berry’s character, the excellent Bernard Hill whose only used as a plot device and disappears halfway through the film, and of course Berry whose character description on the screenplay probably read: Run, Scream, React, Scream, React, Scream, Dialogue, Cry, Scream, Scream, Run, Cry, Dialogue. (Give your Oscar back Ms. Berry, for our sake.)

“Gothika” eventually loses track of what it’s trying to come across plot wise and the second half of the film is completely ridiculous and leaves many questions from the audience with gaping wide plot holes you can drive a truck through that will probably never be answered. Ultimately, it starts off well, but just manages to become one ridiculous thriller with a completely ridiculous last moment that literally had me grumbling under my breath angrily at how blatant a “Sixth Sense” rip-off it was. The truly frightening part of this movie? The ending that leaves the door open for a sequel. While the acting is tolerable and the cast pretty good, this is a concept with potential but the truly scary thing here are the horror clichés that shoot rapid fire, the ridiculous dialogue, stereotypical over-used setting, and utterly nonsensical plot that just reaches new lengths of idiocy by the climax. The burning question I’m still asking myself: What does Gothika mean? Now that I think of it: I couldn’t care less.