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Gothika’: scary but stupid script

C. Spencer Beggs | Monday, November 24, 2003

You might like Gothika better the first time you saw it, when it was called The Ring or The Sixth Sense – or maybe The Stupid Parts of The Ring Meets the Stupid Parts of the Sixth Sense.Oscar-winner Halle Berry plays Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist at a Connecticut hospital for criminally insane women that gives Dracula’s castle a run for its spooky money, complete with conveniently timed power outages. After a harrowing session treating a patient named Chloe (Penélope Cruz) who claims she is raped by the devil at night, Grey takes a fateful detour on her way home and runs off the road when she swerves to avoid a half-naked girl standing in the road. When she approaches the girl to see if she is all right, the girl grabs her, bursts into flames and Grey blacks out.When she wakes up, she finds herself committed to her own hospital under the treatment of one her colleagues, Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.), who reveals to her that she has brutally murdered her husband. The plot is pretty much a downward spiral from there, involving ghosts, possession and satanic ritual abuse.The real shame of Gothika is that it starts out with some pretty intriguing psychological premises and symbolism, but it never develops any of those themes. As the movie progresses, it goes from psychological thriller, to occult thriller, to Nancy Drew-solves-the-case-of-the-crazy-ghost-possessed-women. Robert Downey, Jr., who turns out a stellar performance with disappointingly little screen time, is under-utilized, and his character, along with a possible romance with Berry, all but vanishes about halfway through the film.After seeing Gothika, one can only wonder what went awry with the script. It almost seems as if the last quarter of the movie was amputated and replaced by a campy Hollywood ending. During the last scene of the movie, you can almost hear the audience thinking, “OK, hit me with the twist ending. Here it comes. Here it comes. OK, now hit me with the real twist ending. Hey! Why are the credits rolling?”To give the devil his due – quite literally – Gothika is pretty damn scary. Director Mathieu Kassovitz really knows how to turn the screws when he’s building up to a scare. For the most part, Gothika steers clear of slasher flick-esque red herring scares and jump out “gotchas.” Kassovitz telegraphs most of his scares – the audience knows exactly where and when they’re coming, but they’re going to get you anyway. Kassovitz gets what he wants with audiences screaming out loud, covering their faces and spilling their popcorn.Gothika is scary because of the artful design and cinematography, but it doesn’t summon enough intelligence to invoke the true psychological terror that marks a good horror movie. There’s too much in Gothika that just plain doesn’t make sense. Where The Ring intelligently decided to stay away from explanations and The Sixth Sense intelligently decided to give a complete one, Gothika only offers half of a really bad one.Of course, this should have been evident from the movie’s title: It kind of looks like gothic, but adding an extra letter to the word is just plain pointless.