[Metroactive Movies]

[ Movies Index | Show Times | Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

The Haunting of Halle House: Robert Downey Jr. oversees the less-than-therapeutic visit to the mental ward of Halle Berry in 'Gothika.'

Woman in Flames

'Gothika' works on the senses without making sense

By Richard von Busack

IN A HORROR MOVIE, making sense isn't all it's cracked up to be. But who knows what the rules of the supernatural are? In Gothika, a raging ghost is trying to make a live human an instrument of her revenge, but she keeps beating up this person and mutilating her--why? Maybe (nothing's more annoying than an amateur ghost psychologist) the ghost is crazy?

Mad illogic reigns in Gothika. Halle Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist at Woodward Penitentiary, an awful, underlit Gothic monstrosity of a women's prison for the criminally insane. Her husband is also her boss, played by the eerie hulk Charles S. Dutton. He lays a huge kiss on his wife that made the theater go "eeeyooou" like fifth-grade girls sighting an inchworm. (Dutton compounds this unpleasant first impression by offering a cigar: "Here, let me circumcise that for you," he says, wielding a cigar cutter.)

On her way home, Miranda gets caught in a rainstorm, has a horrifying supernatural experience and turns up amnesiac and blood-covered next to the butchered body of the husband. All Miranda can remember is the wet little girl she almost clobbered with her car (a ringer for the "well girl" from The Ring). As Miranda reclaims her memory, she gets cold comfort from a fellow doctor (Robert Downey Jr.) who had previously been hot to seduce her.

In the madhouse, Miranda falls prey to delusions, apparently self-inflicted wounds and a haunting by a battering ghost. Her only ally is her angry former patient Chloe, who had been claiming that the devil was raping her every night. Penélope Cruz gives a berserk performance as Chloe, delivering lines like this one, describing the murder she committed, "I cut his Adam's apple in half like a piece of fruit on a summer day."

Actually, all this is fairly effective, regularly startling and sometimes even thrilling. The music by John Ottman is propulsive and never intrusive. The photography by Matthew Libatique (Requiem for a Dream) is a model of how to do a low-light movie, without everything looking like blue mud. Gothika may not make sense, but it's rigorous in its way: the irrational world is always wet, represented by rain, the prison shower and one of those Cat People swimming pools. The slightly more rational world is a place of bars, cells and men (like Dutton) who like to putter around in waistcoats, smoking huge cigars and burbling about playing God. Here, men have all the power, and the women are all locked up.

Mathieu Kassovitz, who directed the acclaimed French film Hate, makes his American debut with more than a few American movie references. These include the sane-person-in-the-crazy-house theme (Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor) and a sheriff (played by the hard-working character actor John Carroll Lynch) named "Sheriff Robert Ryan." The flaming ghost may also be borrowed from David Lynch's Fire Walk With Me (a similar movie loved in France but loathed here). Berry gives it 1,000 percent, screaming her head off, though it's apparent that the hard-earned seriousness may get its largest audience as fodder for Scary Movie 4.

Gothika (R, 95 min.), directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, written by Sebastian Guitierrez, photographed by Matthew Libatique and starring Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr., opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

[ Silicon Valley | Metroactive Home | Archives ]

From the November 20-26, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate