Grade: B-
Year: 2003
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Writer: Sebastian Gutierrez
Genre: Horror
Rated: R
By Scott Spicciati

There are many implausible events and unanswered questions in the new sleek-looking thriller, "Gothika." Would a prison psychiatrist accused of murder be locked up in the same facility as her former patients, forced to live, eat and shower with them? If you're a psychotic murderer, does it make sense to kill one after another in the same city without so much as covering up the evidence. And why on Earth did Sebastian Gutierrez title his story "Gothika?"

Halle Berry plays the psychiatrist I just mentioned, and on one dark and stormy night while driving home, Dr. Miranda Grey nearly hits a half-naked girl in the middle of the road. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" flashbacks, anyone? Well, the girl (Kathleen Mackey) in this story doesn't prophesize Grey's death, she just simply does a neat little trick that sends Grey into an unconscious state until she awakens inside the prison facility she is all too used to, only this time she in on the wrong side of the glass.

As a doctor, Grey worked with Dr. Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). They had a little fling going for awhile (which automatically puts Graham on our suspects list) even though she was married to their boss, Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton). When he was found brutally murdered at the Grey residence, Miranda was the main suspect and immediately locked up in the psychiatric prison where she soon woke up and had no memory of anything that happened after encountering the girl in the middle of the road.

Stuck inside the prison, Grey encounters her former patient, Chloe (Penelope Cruz), who talks in a low, creepy tone and carries the burden of having to say most of the film's corny dialogue. Grey begins to learn a lot more about Chloe now that she too is a prisoner.

The prison facility looks cool; dark and gloomy with almost no color. It's the perfect setup for a horror thriller. But my bubble popped when I overheard a patron in the audience whispering to her friend that "you'd think a psychiatric prison would be colorful and encouraging to the inmates during rehabilitation." And what a point! Shouldn't the ward be cheerful and accommodating to a patients suffering from paranoia. Wouldn't seeing nothing but gray walls make it worse? Shucks. To let slide or not to let slide, that is the question.

But to be fair, there really isn't a lot of time to think about the prison because the ghost girl soon shows up and starts reeking havoc. We also don't have time to wonder why every ghost in the movies can't come out and do what they've come to do, they must first toy with the characters and leave cryptic messages all over the walls in blood. But what's nice about this story is that almost all of it takes place inside the prison. Because the inmates are locked up most of the time, there is not much room to hide from the ghost, and that's a fundamental element of horror. We know the ghost is sulking down the hallways and there's no place to run. She makes her presence known by unlocking doors and carving sadistic messages into flesh.

But that is really where the film stops being good. Dr. Grey -- or shall I say inmate Grey -- starts playing detective to find out who killed her husband. We know it could have been the ghost girl, but if so, why is she stalking Grey? And then of course we know it could have been Dr. Grey all along. A few more characters are brought in to add to the 'suspects list', but it still shouldn't be difficult to figure at least some of the puzzle.

The dialogue is laugh-out-led horrendous; I could just throw out random quotes, like Cruz's character saying, "He opened me up like a flower of pain," or "He can have my body, but he can never have my soul!" Then there's a great confession by Dr. Grey who shouts, "I'm not deluded, I'm possessed!"

But the absolute most ridiculous thing about the film is the end result of Cruz's character. Just remember what she talks about early on in her confession to Dr. Grey, and then go back to what happens to her in the end and you'll realize how ridiculous it is. So why isn't this a 'C' movie, you ask? Because there are some really creepy and genuinely scary parts. Yes, the cat or owl or whatever animal it is does jump out once or twice, but so does the ghost, and one scene had the entire audience in bedlam.

"Gothika" is both a good and bad movie. It's got a lot of flaws, glitches, and improbable events take place. However, it triumphs in the visual category, and there's a lot of style that's feeding enough energy to keep the story interesting. Did Grey's husband really need to make her throw a glass of water at his office mirror to make his point about psychology? No, but it looks good on camera, and so does most of the film, whether it makes any sense or not.

It's hard to point out the right audience to recommend this film to. For the diehard horror buffs, "Gothika" may not be enough, but for the general moviegoers looking for a fun time, it should deliver on the goods. In either case, I'd definitely rent this on a dark and stormy night. It's a guaranteed couple of genuinely good scares, and for that it succeeds as a modern American-made horror.

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati