Gothika (2003) *
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Written by Sebastian Gutierrez. Photography, Matthew Libatique. Editing, Yannick Kergoat. Production design, Graham Walker. Music, John Ottman. Produced by Joel Silver, Robert Zemeckis, Susan Levin. Cast: Halle Berry (Miranda Grey), Robert Downey Jr. (Pete Graham), Charles S. Dutton (Dr. Douglas Grey), John Carroll Lynch (Sheriff Ryan), Bernard Hill (Phil Parsons) and Penélope Cruz (Chlöe Sava). A Warner's and Columbia release. 97 minutes. Rated R (violence)
What is a nice girl like Halle Berry doing in a dud like this?
The main setting is a New England hospital for the criminally insane. The filmmakers impress you as also criminally insane. That's surprising given the track record of French director Mathieu Kassovitz. He has acted in many films, notably as the male lead in the mega-hit "Amelie." Better yet, he had made four unusual, highly praised features : "Metisse" (aka "Café au Lait,") "Hate," "Assassin(s)," and "Crimson Rivers."
The odd title "Gothika" with a K reminds me of Kafka's novel "Amerika," that is, of the German spelling that protesting Americans have used in slogans, movie titles and such. Here, the title is an artsy throwback to Gothic novels and to films of the "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" type. Indeed, darkness, torrential rains, lightning and thunder abound - and their concomitant cries and whispers.
At the institution, Miranda Grey (Berry) is the main psychologist. She is married to a quite older man, Dr. Doug Grey (Charles Dutton) who is the director of the psychiatric ward of the penitentiary. They are obviously a good, loving couple. But then, the film switches to a sort of Return of the Living Dead.
Driving in a dark and stormy night --but not as impressive as that in the recent "Identity"-Miranda hits a girl who right away undergoes wild and silly transformations, becomes a torch, vanishes. Cut to Miranda waking up in a glassed-in cell, and accused of having assassinated her spouse, in Lizzie Borden style, no less. She, of course, is as surprised as we are.
Now a protesting inmate, she is overseen by her colleague Pete (Robert Downey, Jr.) who, earlier seemed to have the hots for her. The talented Downey, a man familiar with certain institutions, plays Pete in a bored, two-expressions way of the genus "I don't give a damn about this flick but I'm waiting for my paycheck."
This is a would-be ghost-story. I won't waste your time and mine by describing the silly atmosphere, the overdone "mood-creating" sets, lighting, ever-changing camera angles, sounds and all that jazz, but I will state that this is a murky, dumb and obscure tall tale that ranks low in the genre and stops making sense within minutes of its start.
Berry could not have been more unglamorous had she suffered from beri-beri, that famous tropical disease. How sad. But then look at poor Penelope Cruz! As Berry's former, mega-loony patient who claimed that she was repeatedly raped by the Devil, and who later becomes Berry's pal, Cruz is downright uglified. OK, she never was a beauty, but enough is enough.
Kassowitz has written all his earlier films but not this one. He should have intervened and modified the script radically, but he did not. I'm just guessing that he may have been in awe of the big American genre movies such as "The Exorcist" series or some with "Ghost" in their title, so he opted for not being a spoil-sport in the U.S, film establishment. "Gothika" (better yet, Gothikaka) is pretentious, weird for the sake of weirdness, a mish-mash impossible to follow without boredom, yawns, and uber-confusion.
Perhaps a second screening of the movie ---but who would dare it? --- might locate something that affects the viewer's emotion. I can remember only one such scene. The inmates are all gathered for showers in a vast space. Peter Kassovitz, now a maker of French TV movies, is the father of director Mathieu Kassovitz. Peter K., a Hungarian Jew born in Budapest, was a child during World War II. He escaped the Holocaust thanks to Catholics who hid him. I am convinced that while seemingly invented and/or gratuitous to most audiences, the shower sequence is a reference to the Nazis' fake, pretend-showers of Auschwitz which exterminated untold numbers of Jews with the deadly chemical Zyklon B.
Just for this poignant "lest we forget" section I have upped the movie to one star.