For the past couple years, Dark Castle has been releasing a horror film in mid-autumn. Last year's entry was 'Ghost Ship', preceded by ''Thirteen Ghosts' and 'House on Haunted Hill'. The movies are usually mindless horor flicks, updated with high production values and beautiful camera work. This time around however, they seem to have taken aim at a wider audience with 'Gothika'. Marketed as a psychological thriller and helmed by Halle Berry, the movie isn't as visceral as it's predecessors, and aspires to more be more intelligent.
Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, an accomplished psychiatrist at an asylum for the criminally insane. As the movie opens, she's speaking with a patient named Chloe who insists she's being raped by the devil every night, and asserts that sanity is only a question a perspective. Later on, Dr. Grey is on her way home when she's forced into a detour by a severe thunderstorm. She sees a woman standing in the middle of the road, and swerves into a ditch to avoid her. Stumbling out of the car, she approaches the women, who promptly erupts into flame.
Miranda awakes a couple days later, with no recollection of what has occured. She finds herself a prisoner in the very asylum in which she once worked. To make make matters worse, she stands accused of the very grisly murder of her husband. Now she must unravel the truth of what has happened, and the mystery of the uh, flaming girl. Her only ally is Dr. Graham (Downey), a doctor she almost had an affair with, and who can't quite bring himself to believe in her sanity. Soon, she begins to doubt even his intentions.
Although it's by no means a movie for the kids, 'Gothika' isn't nearly as violent or graphic as previous Dark Castle movies. The worst shots are displayed only briefly, and leave the extent of the imagery to the imagination. This actually serves to make the movie scarier, and give it some truly frightening moments. The first part of the movie is underlied by a taut sense of mystery, as the viewer initially has no idea what's going on. The asylum is saturated with a melancholy blue, and some capable camerawork helps to bring out an excellent sense of supernatural atmosphere early on.
True to Dark Castle form, 'Gothika' can't bear it's own weight in the closing act. It relies upon a horror movie cliche to explain itself, and aside from a rather mundane twist, has no surprises left in store. In a matter of minutes the film manages to go from a tense thriller to a sub-standard horror movie. It's a shame to see such potential wasted. It's not that the ending is horrible, per se, it's that it seems to fit a much different movie than the one 'Gothika' aspired to be.
The acting is pretty solid on all fronts. Cruz does an excellent job in her limited screentime, and although Berry doesn't seem completely comfortable in a horror role, she manages to give a pretty convincing performance. She can't manage to keep her clothes on these days, although Gothika's paycheque apparently didn't warrant any frontal shots. Speaking of habits, Downey manages to keep his nose clean, and delivers some acceptable acting, if nothing more.
'Gothika' just doesn't manage to quite hold itself together, otherwise it has all the makings of an excellent movie. It's got an great sense of suspense laced into it's early proceedings, and builds an engaging storyling full of questions. It's just a pity it chooses to answer said questions with a hackneyed formula used by a multitude of films before it. It's not a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, it just could have been a much better one.