THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
“Gothika manages to be a suspenseful, psychological ghost story with few lame or cliched moments.”
Oh, Halle Berry. Man you were (and still are) hot. And at one time, you lived as one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. Starring roles in summer blockbusters. Winning an Oscar for getting down and dirty with Billy Bob. Then it all swirled 'round a toilet bowl like careers sometimes do. And once they do, it’s hard (especially for women of a certain age) to resurrect their career to the same heights. In Miss Berry’s case, her death nail came in form of a cat, or more specifically a Catwoman. A mega-bomb by the definition of the term.
However, in between her plum role in X-Men 2 and Batman’s bitch, came a genre film named of Gothika. You may recall it. It’s the one where she plays a psychologist who attempts to help a very nutty Penelope Cruz only to end up in the nut house herself as a supposedly very nutty Berry who’s accused of knocking off her husband. But things aren’t all they seem. A ghost is hanging around telling her things. Her former friends no longer treat her well or give her the benefit of the doubt. In other words, it sucks to be her.
So why do I dig this? My reasoning is simple on two parts. One, I think it’s a pretty good movie. It’s suspenseful with some believable acting and true creepy moments. Director Mathieu Kassovitz (who gave us the effective Crimson Rivers) delivers great mood and atmosphere that keeps the tension as thick as Nurse Ratched. Two, I love me some Berry and man does she wear some tight sweaters in this...but I don’t want this article to be a love letter to the woman. No, no. The movie can stand for itself. Despite being a moderately big Hollywood production (which often stinks of mediocrity in horror), Gothika manages to be a suspenseful, psychological ghost story with few lame or cliched moments. It also helps that it’s a rare bloody R movie with these kind of actors.
Allow me to present Evidence A: the shower scene. Here, Berry must shower along side the female nuts. Don’t get too excited though…you never see Berry’s berrys. Instead we’re given authentic looking prisoners. Yuck. Anyway, what makes the scene work is her psychotic espisode where she not only sees a ghost, but the faces of everyone around her twist and morph into demonic-looking folks. Evidence B: the flashback sequence where she attempts to reconstruct what happened that night her husband was killed. It’s cool and inventive. You don’t need much more. Just believe me.
Of course there are more scenes beyond those two, but one of the biggest things Gothika has going for it is the cast. At the very least, the thing has some credibility for that. Beyond the Berry factor, there’s the underused Charles S. Dutton as Berry’s soon to be dead husband. Downing Jr. as a mysterious and jerky doctor, and Cruz as a nut. Downing Jr. is especially fun to watch here because I for one haven’t recently revisited many of his older movies before Iron Man. He exudes such confidence in his wacky persona now that it seems second nature, but back in 2003, RDJ wasn’t a sure thing. He had just been fired from Ally McBeal the year before and was trying to get his career on track. Dutton doesn’t have a lot to do here but he has the rare ability to bring strength and steadiness to any movie. But make no mistake. This is Berry’s movie. She’s damn good too having to act all over the map going from calm shrink to enraged patient to simplistic to brave and bold. Not many actors have to change things up that much. Sure, this might be Hollywood horror (meaning not edgy indie) but it’s more effective than you remember.