(Mathieu Kassovitz, USA, 2003)


Normally, I could not care less about narrative plausibility in movies. There are plenty of things more important than finicky, logistical, ultra-rational details concerning how an event exactly took place, why two people happened to be in the same spot at the same time, or whether an action obeys the laws of gravity.

Gothika, however, contains a particularly risible moment that is instantly compounded by a string of equally implausible occurrences – making it impossible for any viewer to stay engaged with the story.

The crucial moment comes when Miranda (Halle Berry) hides down in the deep end of a perfectly transparent swimming pool. Guys prowl every centimetre of poolside, illuminating the depths with their torches. But they do not spot Miranda. From that point, the film rides a wave of escalating absurdity.

Indeed, by the end, the film is notable only for the level of ultra-critical hilarity it prompts in its audience.

Gothika could have been an entertaining, captivating horror-mystery-thriller. Its ingredients are pure Female Gothic. Miranda is a hyper-rational psychologist working in a gloomy clinic reminiscent of The Snake Pit (1948). She ignores the supernaturally inclined rants of the disturbed Chloe (Penelope Cruz) – until she finds herself among the patients, confronted by colleague Pete (Robert Downey Jr) with the news that she has savagely chopped her husband, Douglas (Charles Dutton), to pieces.

This could have been a movie about mental illness, about the ambiguity of memory and perception, about the limits of rational understanding and about the scary quest of women to punch through the labyrinthine evils of a patriarchal order. Instead, it is about nothing. The plot revelations are ridiculous, and serve only to set up a lame action finale.

There is a lot of wasted talent behind this film. Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez’s previous assignment was the clever Elmore Leonard adaptation, The Big Bounce (2004). French director Mathieu Kassovitz, here making his American debut, made one terrific film, La Haine (1995), but Gothika merely hastens the downhill slide of his career into flashily handled mediocrity.

He sends his camera ominously gliding around every face, every object, every room so often that he makes the spectator want to scream even louder than Miranda.

© Adrian Martin April 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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