Gothika [2003]

The title of Gothika prepares you for a spooky, atmospheric thriller with an emphasis on supernatural mystery. The best way to appreciate the movie itself is to understand that it's a waking nightmare that needn't make sense in the realm of sanity. Making a flashy Hollywood debut after his superior 2000 thriller Crimson Rivers, French actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz pours on the dark and stormy atmosphere, trapping a competent psychologist (Halle Berry) in the prison ward where she treated inmates (including Penelope Cruz) until she was committed for killing her husband (Charles S. Dutton), who was also her boss. Did a car crash cause her to suffer ghostly delusions, or is a young girl--dead for four years--sending clues from beyond the grave? Berry has to prove her innocence while Kassovitz keeps everything--including the viewer and costar Robert Downey Jr. (as Berry's colleague)--in the dark about just where the nonsensical plot is leading. There's a better movie in here somewhere, among the catwalks and crannies of the impressive prison-castle setting, and Berry gives 100% in a performance that's consistent with the movie's overwrought tone. Attentive viewers will identify the killer early on, and the ending is anticlimactic, but Gothika serves up a few good shocks for ghost-story connoisseurs. --Jeff Shannon

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