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Gothika (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Director and crew commentaries; 'Patient Hall' - 3 inmate interviews; 'Miranda's Office' - patient notes and drawings; 'Interview Room' - Painting with Fire Featurette; 'On the Set of Gothika' featurette; Music video 'Behind Blue Eyes' Limp Bizkit.

HORROR, to be truly effective, usually works best when showing some restraint, thereby allowing the tension to build slowly towards its spine-tingling, ‘jump-out-of-your-seat’ set pieces. Sadly, the only terrifying thing about Gothika is how frequently it gets things wrong.

Billed as a psychological ghost story-cum-murder mystery, the film is set in and around the Woodward Penitentiary for Women, and features Halle Berry as a brilliant criminal psychologist who suddenly finds herself accused of the murder of her husband (Charles S Dutton).

Hospitalised in the very institution in which she used to work, Berry must uncover the reasons behind her husband’s demise, while struggling to cope with the possibility that she may be possessed by the spirit of a vengeful ghost, who consistently leaves messages that she is ‘not alone’.

Aiding and distracting her in equal measure are the likes of Penelope Cruz’s disturbed patient, Chloe, who claims to be the victim of satanic torture and rape, and Robert Downey Jnr’s former colleague, and potential love interest, who is desperate to find out whether Berry has become insane.

Director, Mathieu Kassovitz’s film starts out as an intriguing psychological thriller, only to become undone by a chronic lack of logic, suspense or genuine chills. It pulls its best trick too early, and then proceeds to signpost every jolt long before it arrives.

Hence, what could have become a taut and unsettling thriller, quickly degenerates into a sustained series of MTV-style effects, which lead to an ending which completely negates what has come before.

What Berry saw in the script in the first place, only she knows, but there is very little for viewers to work with, beyond counting down to the truly terrible finale.

Although heavy on style, there is very little in the way of characterisation to give audiences anyone to root for, while the direction the movie eventually takes, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

Berry seems content to play it like a rabbit caught in the headlights, without really tapping into the frustrations of her predicament, or the sense of loss she may feel, while her relationship with Dutton’s fellow psychologist is never believable in the first place.

And any relationship potential with Downey Jnr’s charismatic colleague is consistently wasted, amid the need to throw in one set piece after another, which leaves the actor under-used and the film suffering for it.

Of the set pieces, too many rely on the same lighting technique to warn viewers of an impending jolt, while some of the situations Berry finds herself in feel so contrived and manipulated that they border on laughable.

And given its failure to connect emotionally with viewers, the film is fighting a losing battle in its bid to scare, rather than bore them.

Had the resolution been a little stronger, the film may not have suffered so badly, but when the twists are so blatantly obvious, and the denouement appears so ridiculous, it becomes very hard to forgive the film for even its minor indiscretions.

All of which makes this yet another horrific failure from the company behind such effects-driven tosh as Thir13en Ghosts and Ghost Ship. Beware the name Dark Castle Entertainment, for Gothika is ‘not alone’ in being a bad film from them.

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