Gothika. Great title, that. Which means? Absolutely nothing. And that makes it apt for this pointless, un-gothic thriller. It's dark, all right, and the weather's bloody awful. But `gothik'? Nah.
What we've got here is a paranormal mystery-thriller, and a screamingly unimaginative one at that. Who is the flaming ghost-girl who keeps attacking Halle Berry with the bloody words ""Not Alone""? Is Berry really guilty of murder? And which weirdo decided to cast human jellybaby Charles S Dutton as her hubby? Berry must escape her loony bin and figure out who, or what, is responsible.
Well, let's start with screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez, whose script rapidly deflates the movie's killer pitch to reveal a wholly disappointing motor: Dr Grey sees dead people. Thanks to an impressive lack of invention, the plot loses its grip on reality faster than Berry's character does. But French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz doesn't seem too bothered. Making his first Hollywood studio pic, Kassovitz (who you'll remember as La Haine's ethno-punk helmer and Amélie's love interest) has clearly sussed that subtleties - - like, say, logic and plausibility - - aren't worth a damn. After all, the supernatural is always a great get-out clause when you haven't got a story that makes sense.
Gothika just wants to put bums on seats - - and send them flying back off. And this is a film with its fair share of ejector-seat scares. In fact, it's just one big jump movie. Packed with an empty charge, Kassovitz's direction just cues up the cheapskate shock-shots: his camera locks in on Berry's headlamp eyes, climactic smash-cuts wait to pounce, the spikes of music are never less than THIS LOUD. Tragically, these thoroughly unsurprising surprises are all Gothika's got. Even worse, this one-trick pony will make you jump. And no matter how early you see it coming, there's not a damn thing you can do about it.
This is partly down to DoP Matthew Libatique (Requiem For A Dream), who makes stylish work of warping mental hospital into haunted house, pepping the atmosphere with shadow-splashed cinematography and lots of flickering fluorescent bulbs. And while films like Gothika don't really have much to do with acting, Halle Berry gives the wild-eyed victim role her best shot, running around this schlock corridor with her best screaming shoes on. Rape-obsessed patient Penélope Cruz finally finds a role that fits her skewed accent (""He opened me like a flower of pain"") and Robert Downey Jr, playing Berry's shrink, just looks thankful to be working. He's coasting here, dodging cornball dialogue and getting out before the movie's super-lame endnote. And we can't blame him.