The name Gothika refers to absolutely nothing in the movie. It’s a meaningless title that is only there to establish a mood. Yep, it’s another “I see dead people” movie. This time around it is the remarkably stunning Halle Berry that is seeing ghosts everywhere she turns.
Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a psychologist working at the Woodward Institute for Women, a prison for the criminally insane. She’s the Strong Female Lead that may or may not be losing her mind. And, of course, all of the other cliched characters are here as well… Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3) plays Miranda’s likeable boss and husband that you know won’t make it through the first reel, Penelope Cruz (Vanilla Sky) is the vaguely spooky inmate that keeps steering the hero in the right direction, Robert Downey Jr. is the creepy co-worker that has a crush on Miranda, Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings, Titanic) is the sensible co-worker whose only purpose is to deliver exposition, and John Carroll Lynch (The Drew Carey Show) plays the small-town sheriff who is also the murder victim’s best friend.
Driving home one rainy night, Dr. Grey runs her car off the road to avoid hitting a teenage girl standing in the middle of a bridge. When Miranda rushes out to help the girl, she blacks out and wakes up three days later as a patient in the Institute where she is being held for the murder of her husband. Miranda has no memory of the murder and begins to doubt her own sanity when the girl from the bridge keeps appearing to her. When she discovers that the girl, Rachel, is the dead daughter of her co-worker, Dr. Parsons (Bernard Hill), Miranda begins to look into how she was killed. Along the way, she becomes convinced that her former patient—now fellow inmate—Chloe is being raped by the same man that killed Rachel.
There is very little original thought in this movie. But it’s a horror/thriller, originality doesn’t matter quite as much as style and mood. And Gothika has plenty of both. Directed by French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz, this film moves quickly and keeps the audience guessing at what will happen next. With such a small cast, it’s hard to keep the audience from picking out the murderer/rapist in the first ten minutes but I didn’t find any of the big surprises to be predictable more than a scene or two in advance.
What really makes this movie work though is the stellar cast. Oscar-winner Halle Berry is convincing as a rational therapist thrust into the maddening world of the paranormal—Berry’s mother was a psychiatric nurse, which must have helped. Miranda’s psychological journey is the centerpiece of the film; Berry is in pretty much every scene. Her role is emotionally and physically (she broke her arm during filming) intense and she dominates the screen. Robert Downey Jr.’s performance is just creepy enough that you have to suspect him only to find yourself second-guessing your own judgement. John Carroll Lynch has two major scenes opposite Berry that are absolutely riveting. Kathleen Mackey, as the ghost of Rachel Parsons, embodies everything that The Ring wanted to be. But the strongest performance in the film comes from Penelope Cruz. Chloe isn’t a large part but it is an important one. She is the emotional core of the movie and her performance turns from sinister to childlike in the blink of an eye. She steals every scene she is in. Bernard Hill is, unfortunately, underused. His character would have benefitted from more development and screen time.
In my opinion, Gothika is a well-acted, sharply directed movie with no significant plot holes and beautiful set design. If you’re a suspense fan then this is easily worth eight dollars. Gothika is rated R for violence, language, and brief nudity.