Cinema Signal:

Dark Forces:
New Stories of Suspense and Supernatural Horror
by Kirby McCauley


. "Gothika"

Those who judge this film as something more than a horror story may not be playing fair. While its premise is at least as good as any from the pen of Steven King, the disappointment of its logic is no worse than most films in the genre. (Okay, so "The Others" and "The Ring" held together better).

One thing we do have here is the constant allure of one of the most beautiful women in the world (I live and die by that appraisal), and I mean that it's evident in every frame, even as she goes through the supernatural terrors thrown at her.

It's a story of the doctor becoming an inmate in the asylum. The doctor here is Miranda Grey (Halle Berry), a psychiatrist at a Connecticut hospital for the criminally insane. Her patient Chloe (Penelope Cruz), prone to hysteria and outlandish behavior requiring restraints, complains of being raped by the devil and Miranda can't find a way to make her see that these are false visions.

Ah, but are they? Driving home in a rainy downpour Miranda is suddenly forced to jerk her car off the road by a vision that might also be false: a nearly naked girl standing in the middle. She gets out of the car to offer the girl help when reality takes a tailspin and she's a patient in the hospital, accused of the brutal death of her husband Douglas (Charles S. Dutton), the director of the hospital. Screaming that she didn't do it, she begins to sound like Chloe.

Her colleague, ace psychiatrist Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.) becomes her therapist who now has the same problem with her that she had with her patient. Her claims are completly disassociative with reality and no sane person can hold them rational. Miranda's in the position of understanding that position while insisting that she's telling the truth.

Problem is, if Miranda didn't hack up husband Doug, who did? Or, what did? And what will it take to find out in time to save Miranda? Are we willing to put up with this kind of horror-schtick to the end? If you're a horror fan, and it's what you live for, you certainly will. Why? Because it at least is put in a visually rich context, what with superb mood setting by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, good visual effects to support that, and the overwrought gorgeous face of the star.

The picture's other star, Downey, turns in one of his more featureless roles, affecting a bright guy, a doctor, with falsely clipped, sometimes barely discernable line readings that seem more artifice than real.

Director Mathieu Kassovitz demonstrates fine taste for the aura of horror and a less than keen ability to improve on the failings of an inferior script. With what he had at his disposal, it's a disappointing outing, but the positive aspects of this tour of unreality (very stylish atmosphere, acting moments at a high, doubtful level), will bring him more than one second chance to do better and more complete work.

This picture has merits. It can be enjoyed, even. But don't approach it with too critical an eye. Horror films demand more than the usual "suspension of disbelief." That thought should take you to the end and to Miranda's and Chloe's hard-won vindications. And, if I sound like an enthusiastic fan of Berry's it's because I'd go to see anything she's in. Which may indicate my need for a little therapy.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Halle Berry as Miranda Grey
A psychiatrist in the throes of demons


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