It’s fine for fright flicks to be made on the cheap financially, but the penny-pinching on creativity has gone way too far. Nothing is scary anymore because everything basically is the same.
Case in point? Gothika, a stylish but shameless and silly rip-off of Stir of Echoes, The Ring and What Lies Beneath. How bad is it when Robert Zemeckis, the director of What Lies Beneath, rips off his own stuff as a producer on this one?
Don’t cry about spoilers, either. If you’ve seen even one of those movies (or, heaven forbid, FearDotCom), it’s like connecting dots with the lines halfway drawn. As soon as that pesky questionable suicide pops up in Gothika, you’ll know exactly what’s going on. No dread, no suspense, no surprises, just laughs — lots of them, 99 percent unintentional.
Not the least of which is the title, which means absolutely nothing. It’s neither the name of the prison in the story nor a place any character must go to unravel a deadly secret. It’s just the oh-so-spooky addition of a vowel and the annoying consonant swap of “c” for “k,” like Limp Bizkit. To say that band’s lame-brained, end-credits cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” is better than the film itself should be evidence enough.
Gothika wastes both a juicy cast (including Halle Berry and Robert Downey Jr.) and a solidly spooky setup. Dr. Miranda Grey (Berry) wakes up one morning in a cell at Woodward Penitentiary, where she works. She can’t remember the last three days, during which she allegedly murdered her husband and boss (Charles S. Dutton).
All she can recall is the rainy detour she took home from work a few nights back, and those are never good. Particularly when you swerve to avoid hitting a girl, crash your Volkswagen and then see said girl spontaneously combust when you offer help.
In jail, Miranda continues to receive messages from the ghostly girl, and she’s pretty impatient. At first, she writes in steam on glass, then cuts Miranda up and throws her around the cell to really get her point across. Miranda needs to set something right about the girl’s death and she must rely on fellow doctor Pete (Downey Jr.), who carries a torch for her, to talk her through the insanity.
Dutton, in his brief appearance, is annoyingly smug, and Penélope Cruz, as a huffy nutcase, overacts a storm by screaming and smacking her chest. Only Berry and Downey Jr., as they obliterate the concept of a personal bubble, crackle in their uneasy passion for one another.
Otherwise, for Berry, it’s run, scream, weep, get roughed up by a ghost, repeat. The problem isn’t that she’s slumming, it’s that she’s having no fun doing it. Walking out, it’s easy to imagine darn near any actress being just as capable for this blustery, blubbery-tears role.
Apparently, Woodward Penitentiary (like the titular town in Darkness Falls) is behind on its power bill, as the movie is a nonstop montage of flickering lights and fluorescent buzzing. It’s what director Matthieu Kassovitz shoddily tries to pass off as atmosphere and mood.
In its final reel, Gothika turns from a crummy horror movie into an even crummier whodunit. It’s dreary, all right, but in all the wrong ways — the sort of thing where you watch something better afterward as a reminder that scary movies used to be scary.