Halle Berry, Gothika (2003).

2017 October Horror Challenge II – Gothika

Day II of this horror movie challenge (see the rest here!) gives of the 2003 film Gothika.

How to watch it:
Amazon
Google Play

I remember being really excited for this when I walked into a Blockbuster Video and saw the trailer. Unfortunately I was working at Blockbuster Video at the time, which means I started seeing a trailer for Gothika very often. I saw it so many times that by the time it arrived in theaters I had zero interest in seeing it.1 It didn’t sit well with critics when it came out2 either. Between that and Berry following it up with the torturously bad but much more infamous Catwoman I completely forgot Gothika existed until now.

That was a huge mistake, this movie starts out strong. The film’s aesthetic may be deep blue instead of Deep Red, but it opens with Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) interviewing Chloe Sava (Penélope Cruz), a woman who at first seems to have been institutionalized for the crime of channeling her dialogue from every Argento film villainess. Much of the film’s moments feel like an Argento film too, in that the script is often so bad the movie is about to collapse, but the visuals hold it together. Mathieu Kassovitz’ direction is smart here, lighting and filming even something as mundane Grey’s walk from upstairs after her interview with Chloe like she’s subtly walking into a different world. If the movie had a Goblin score instead of whatever composer John Ottman was going for it would have a cult following.

Gothika (Halle Berry, 2003)

Several locations are shot to evoke the rain-slicked road on which Grey first encounters a ghost.

But then, just when I was about to write “Gothika….is GOOD?”  Pete Graham (Robert Downy Jr.) shows up. WOW, good for him that Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and Iron Man happened. Maybe that’s harsh, he’s not particularly bad here, but hey it’s hard to forgive any character whose first appearance is interrupting Charles S. Dutton delivering a stream of pop psychology metaphors about objective reality.

And finally, to complete the Argento/Italian horror parallels, when her work day is finally done she almost runs a woman over on a stormy night, crashing her car. Grey quickly gets out of her car and tries to render aid to this confused wanderer, but the mysterious woman pulls a Three Mothers and spontaneously combusts.

There isn’t a bodycount to this movie like a typical giallo, but Kassovitz’ visual foreshadowing is topnotch. Every theme in the movie is laid out in this early scene, which Grey initially views from behind “bars.”

The movie suddenly cuts to Grey as a patient in her own institution, and has been accused of brutally murdering her husband. Also she starts seeing and getting attacked by ghosts.

Now, this is where the movie would be in danger of going completely off the rails and falling apart, but Dr. Grey refuses to give up her agency and the movie’s pace picks up in a big way because of it. Berry’s performance is cool here, always trying to act rational even while trying to start a conversation with a ghost. But it’s handled effectively because we get ghostly encounters that can easily be read3 as the result of Grey repressing a mystery someone as sharp her as her already figured out, but couldn’t bear at the time. That it does this while also using the asylum as a metaphor for the inherent violence of patriarchy – even just on the surface, it has a consistent theme of its male characters considering a “normal” woman to be one who takes her medicine and shuts up no matter the situation – is pretty ambitious, But like many stories of this kind it finds a cathartic path to both have its cake and eat it too with its supernatural elements. Gothika is good.

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  1. See Thanksgiving and Pokémon for other things I hate after working in retail for too long.
  2. With one notable exception being Roger Ebert.
  3. by movie standards, this flick is good but it ain’t the DSM-5.
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Chris Rasa
Chris’ only known functions are learning about video games, watching movies, and writing about both. Much of his published work can be found on Hardcore Gaming 101, where he has worked as a contributing editor since 2004 and, more recently contributed to HG101’s ever growing selection of books.