Gothika begins with ‘just another day’ in the life of respected criminal psychologist Dr Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) as she visits Chloe (Penelope Cruz), a patient in a prison psychiatric ward.
She takes a swim and heads home to see her loving husband. Driving home in the rain, she has a strange encounter with a girl dressed in white standing in the middle of the road.
The next day she awakes in her own personal hell – accused of the brutal murder of her husband, locked up with her patients and viewed with methodical detachment by her former colleagues, no one believes her pleas of innocence. And when the eerie girl in white visits her again, Miranda begins to doubt her own sanity.
This is French director Mathieu Kassovitz first Hollywood film and he brings with him the same brutal and innovative direction he displayed in his amazing debut, La Haine. Better known to audiences for his acting (Amelie and Birthday Girl), Kassovitz’s brilliant French thriller Les Rivieres Pourpres (The Crimson Rivers) bought him to the attention of über-producer Joel Silver who asked him to direct Gothika.
This risk pays off in full as Kassovitz employs clever camera tricks, great effects and a muted pallet of colours to create a very real sense of Miranda’s physical and mental imprisonment – he generates a tense and foreboding mood which never lets up.
Halle Berry, whose mother worked for 35 years as a psychiatric nurse, swaps the glamour of her previous roles for prison issue threads and no make up.
She is well cast as a woman the audience cannot help but believe is innocent. Her wide-eyed bewilderment quickly gives way to gritty determination as she attempts to solve the mystery that has destroyed her life.
Also worth noting are star turns from Robert Downey Jr, as Miranda’s sympathetic but sceptical doctor, and Penelope Cruz, shockingly convincing as the disturbed Chloe.
Packed with scares and shocks, Kassovitz’s movie may not be as good as Les Rivieres Pourpres – but it is a lot better than so many of the generic and tired ‘supernatural thrillers’ Hollywood churns out.