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  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2003 1 Jan

from Film Forum, 11/26/03

2001 Oscar winner Halle Berry has her first leading role since Monster's Ball in this thriller directed by the acclaimed young French director Mathieu Kassovitz.

Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a penitentiary psychologist to troubled women. While her husband (Charles Dutton) gives her love and consolation from the burdens of her tasks, and the admiration of a co-worker (Robert Downey, Jr.) is flattering, her job takes her into some dark places. She is deeply troubled, for example, by the rape fantasies (Penelope Cruz) of one of her patients. Things worsen when she tries to help a girl found lying in the road. Her efforts end in a blackout, and she wakes up to find herself locked in a prison cell, accused of murder. While Grey can't remember what happened, she is convinced that she is innocent of the things that supposedly transpired.

But this is no standard thriller about a wrongfully accused heroine. There are darker forces at work, villains who might not have material wrists for the cuffs.

"Gothika is, for much of its running time, a taut, compelling thriller dominated by Halle Berry's energetic performance," reports J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth). "Unfortunately, the movie collapses as soon as the idea of a serial killer is introduced, and Berry turns from brilliant psychologist into unbelievably brilliant FBI profiler."

He then launches into a lament for the way Hollywood so generously serves up serial killers of all stripes, each storyteller trying to outdo the other with gory details and sick perversions. "Today's filmmakers are just desperately trying to shock their audiences, and it's a sick, unwholesome affair."

"Kassovitz can't … disguise the inherent weakness of the script," says Michael Elliott (Movie Parables). "Once it puts its protagonist in her predicament, it has nowhere to go. Where it ends up is so far out in left field that it's almost like watching a different movie … and a bad one at that."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "Berry plays desperation well. Nevertheless, the role remains two-dimensional, rarely demanding more than alternating looks of confused shock or caged fear. And though viewers seeking a few honest screams aren't expecting Lady Macbeth, it helps if the audience has a vested interest in the protagonist's dilemma."

Loren Eaton (Plugged In) says, "Anyone familiar with the plots of The Sixth Sense and The Ring will find Gothika to be pretty familiar territory. While it doesn't reach the disgusting extremes of, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it goes far enough for discerning viewers to leave it forever locked away in its own cinematic purgatory."

Mainstream critics would be happy to see the movie locked up and the key thrown away.