December 4, 2003


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Psychiatric wards are scary places because that’s where the crazy people are. Well, the ones who’ve been found out at least. Ghosts are scary because you can’t see them, they’re dead, and they usually don’t do very nice things when they hang around the living. Add these things together, and you have a supernatural thriller in the psychiatric ward of a women’s institution. The stage is set and it should be a good, solid, scary movie. And yes, Gothika was a basic, frightening movie. As a measure of the scariness of the film, the two people on my right and the two people on my left were each gripping each other throughout the course of the movie.

I personally love scary films and was quite excited to go and catch this flick, even paying the full price for a Friday evening show. I was not disappointed; the film was creepy, disturbing, alluring, psychotic, and made me jump a few times. The plot focuses on Miranda Grey (Halle Berry), a brilliant psychologist working in a Women’s Psychiatric Institution (the movie never sees fit to reveal the actual name of the institute — or even if it’s a hospital or a prison). We see her trying to aid the recovery of Chloe Sava (Penelope Cruz), joking with co-worker Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.), snagging a kiss from husband and the department head, Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton), and taking a swim before heading home after a hard day. On her drive home, she almost runs over a girl standing in the middle of the road. After trying to help the girl, Berry loses consciousness, and the next thing we know, she’s locked up in her own workplace, in the garb of a regular inmate. That’s when the fun begins.

Apparently Berry murdered her husband with an ax and drew the words, “Not alone,” on the door of their bedroom with her dearly departed’s blood. She’s also been unconscious for the past three days. Berry immediately tries to convince her new therapist, Downey, that she’s not crazy, she didn’t murder her husband, and he needs to get her the hell out of there. Needless to say, this doesn’t cut any dice with the doctor, and Berry is forced to take matters into her own hands in an attempt to free herself from prison and find out what really happened to her husband.

One of the creepiest parts of the movie is a conversation Berry has with Cruz the day she wakes up in prison. Cruz sits down next to Berry, and tells her that even though she’s not crazy, everyone thinks that she’s nuts, and no matter what she does, she won’t be able to change their opinion. In this way we learn that the ramblings Cruz spoke back when Berry was her doctor aren’t fantasy, there are some elements of reality in them. The horror at the imprisonment and over-medication of sane people is quite disturbing and it makes one wonder just what makes one person insane and another merely eccentric or quirky.

The movie lives up to its goth name as the prison is dark, dank, and downright creepy; atmosphere is a real killer here. Darkness plays a large role, as it does in most horror movies, as everything seems to happen during the night, in the dark. The set is a regular psychiatric ward, though one stroke of genius was the window in the door of Cruz’s cell: it was shaped like a cross. This fits in with Cruz’s tale of the devil coming to visit her at night and cutting her inside with fire, and also with the tattoo of an unknown assailant who becomes an important element in the film.

Horror movies usually have twists and turns in the plot to keep the audience unsteady and unsure of what’s goinD happen next, and Gothika is no different. The mystery of Berry’s evening slowly unravels as her haunting spectre gets more aggressive, seriously injuring Berry several times. While it seems a little counter-intuitive to harm the person who’s trying to solve the mystery of your death, I guess ghosts are just a little unreasonable. Maybe it’s the whole dead thing that puts them in such a pissy mood.

I’m not scared all that easily by horror films, and this one didn’t give me nightmares, but it did make me gasp a few times and grasp my armrests tensely. Most of the plot developments were pretty obvious and fit in with all of the scary movie clich