Should I Watch..? 'Gothika'
What's the big deal?
Gothika is a psychological horror film released in 2003 and was written by Sebastian Gutierrez. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, the film follows a prison psychiatrist who wakes one day and suddenly finds herself imprisoned at her facility and suspected of murdering her husband. The film stars Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr, Penelope Cruz, Charles S. Dutton and Bernard Hill. The film is possibly best known for its meme-worthy poster and the poorly received Limp Bizkit cover of the Who's song Behind Blue Eyes. Despite worldwide takings in excess of $141 million, the film was not well received by critics although Roger Ebert (something of a hero of mine) was more positive. The film is certainly over-the-top and goofy but a confusing narrative and some lazy performances don't help the film stay in the memory for too long.
What's it about?
Dr Miranda Grey works as a psychiatrist in the women's ward of Woodward Penitentiary and is recently married to the chief of her department, Dr Douglas Grey. Alongside colleague Dr Pete Graham, she works with the inmates including Chloe Sava who claims that she is frequently raped by the devil in her dreams. Heading home from work one dark and stormy night, she spots a dishevelled young girl standing in the road and Miranda swerves off the road and crashes. Emerging from her wrecked car, Miranda goes to check on the girl who suddenly grabs Miranda's head and screams.
Miranda suddenly wakes up and finds herself incarcerated in a cell in Woodward. With no memory of how she got there, she finds herself being treated by Pete who informs her that her husband has been killed and that she is the only suspect in Douglas' murder. Now understanding what life is like on the other side of the glass, Miranda finds herself haunted by visions of the girl and by strange carvings on her arm that read "Not Alone". Can Miranda get to the bottom of what has happened or will she just be dismissed as just another crazy person?
Dr Miranda Grey
Robert Downey Jr
Dr Pete Graham
Charles S Dutton
Dr Douglas Grey
John Carroll Lynch
Release Date (UK)
2nd April, 2004
Horror, Mystery, Thriller
What's to like?
Say that you really don't like horror films but you have an interest in them. Where do you start, what film to begin desensitising yourself to all things scary? I would suggest Gothika although not because it's scary because it isn't. But what the film does do is compose a strange amalgamation of multiple horror cliches and present them as a new and complete film all on their own. The film seems to be set entirely at night and during a perpetual storm as well, giving the prison exactly the Addam's Family atmosphere the film-makers were going for. It certainly doesn't look like any prison I've seen in other films or TV shows but having never been thrown in the slammer myself, I couldn't possibly comment.
Berry, being a far better actor than this supposedly spooky fluff, does her best with the role and demonstrates that she can lead a film herself without squeezing herself into a catsuit. But she is hampered with a narrative and dialogue that are laughably bad. I've heard of films that are so-bad-they're-good (although I hate the term myself) but this film is the genuine article. It's difficult to know where the blame lies for this goofy nonsense but if you are in a forgiving mood, you'll have a good time trying to work out what the hell is going on in between giggling.
- Despite not being critically well received, this is still the highest earning film produced by Dark Castle Entertainment - beating the likes of Ghost Ship, House Of Wax and Unknown.
- Berry broke her arm while shooting the hospital interrogation scene with Downey Jr, who twisted her arm too hard. Shooting was delayed by eight weeks while Berry recovered.
- Berry was on the list of potential nominees for Worst Actress at that year's Razzies ceremony but failed to secure a single vote. However, she did win Worst Actress the following year after her performance in Catwoman.
What's not to like?
Given that the cast don't appear to be playing for laughs, it seems only right that I should appraise Gothika with the same level of gravitas. Unfortunately, this does the film no favours at all - Cruz delivers possibly the worst performance of her long career as the possibly insane Chloe, rocking backwards and forwards in such a stereotypical manner that in this time of heightened awareness of mental health that it's borderline offensive. The story, such as it is, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever - even the film's Wikipedia page poses more questions than answers - and by the time the film ends, you're left wondering what the hell you've just witnessed.
Worst of all is the film's desperation to provide some sort of chill factor, whether it's through transparent jump-scares or an overall feeling of creepiness in the film. But it's a disaster. The scariest thing about the film, other than how it somehow passed through quality control, is Downey Jr's character who veers from time to time from obvious psychopath to possible love interest with little explanation. Gothika feels like an episode of The Addams Family or The Munsters but rewritten as a thriller and it just doesn't work.
Should I watch it?
Only if you want a laugh. Gothika fails to be any sort of proper horror film by having less scares than a fairground ride for toddlers. Despite Berry working really hard to try and make this goofy ghost story work, she can't pull it off and it ends up being a lurid and over-the-top exercise in style over substance. There are countless horror movies out there to chill the blood or make you scream out of your seat but Gothika is not one of them.
Great For: horror film virgins, Hammer horror fans (the bad ones like Scars Of Dracula), DIY home commentaries
Not So Great For: horror film veterans, anybody expecting to follow the plot, the easily confused, horror in general
What else should I watch?
When I said that there is no shortage of decent horror films worth watching, I was not exaggerating. It remains one of the most popular genres in cinema and has done for many years from early shockers like German expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari and Lon Chaney's defining role in The Phantom Of The Opera in 1925 to influential classics like The Shining and John Carpenter's visually gruesome The Thing to iconic slasher pictures like Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street. Despite an insatiable desire for remakes, this are some of the building blocks for the true horror aficionado.
Sadly, there are just as many horror films which are considered among the worst films ever made which shouldn't be that surprising given how many films within the genre. Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space has become a byword for the director's somewhat lax approach to film-making in general while other notoriously bad films include The Creeping Terror, Manos: The Hands Of Fate and 1978's The Swarm. Doubtless, you'll have your own bad horror films to add below but personally, I'd throw Gothika into the pile as well.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox