Gothika brushes on snuff movies, child sexual abuse, and opens with a scene involving a character with daddy issues, but this is all surface-level treatment. It features glimpses of a stable (if not happy) marriage, a wishful paramour in the wings, and ends with some measure of redemption. And, yet, that, as well, is a superficial depiction. It stands to reason that the following be asked of those responsible for making it… Do you mean to tell me that, with a French director at the helm, exclusive billing for Halle Barry, and a pivotal shower scene, no European sensibility as regards nudity was allowed the chance to flourish? Do you mean that, two years removed from her first nude scene, Mathieu Kassovitz couldn’t bypass a pesky nudity clause in Halle Barry’s contract? That, with plenty of lady rump and cellulite jiggling in the pale moonlight during a mass clear-out in the communal showers, Halle Barry’s feminine wares were deliberately obscured from collective gaze?
These were the immediate thoughts that coursed through my head upon dispelling any conceptual similarities with the earlier, much more superior madhouse-centered Girl, Interrupted (1999), all before the announcement of an ill-conceived paranormal implication behind the scenes. I remember rather vividly Gothika‘s DVD trailers and, to its credit, its premise, from two decades ago. Given that that time also coincided with my own personal age of discovery as regards both cinema and my recent arrival to the United States, you can imagine the effect of the film had in teasing me with locales beyond the horizon (pre-revolution states while I sat in centennial Colorado). Hence, the titling of this post as closing the loop, which I hope you will find understandable. I, most of all, still remember how the main premise involved a gaslit protagonist accused of the murdering her husband (Charles S. Dutton). And if those tangent-sending thoughts weren’t enough, it wasn’t much of a surprise after all that even in fictional settings, if they managed to bag a perfect dime piece, fat guys couldn’t go the distance staying married to Halle Barry. One way or another, it would prove too good to last, being the at the receiving end of the swinging fury of a bloodied axe, in this instance.
On the whole, Gothika serves as proof that a film can be enjoyable despite lacking in writing; writing that stretches—then threatens to break—the limits of credibility. The psychiatric hospital the film is set around is a combination of Gothic facade and anachronistic interiors reporpused for modern practice. It is set amid a swirling tempest and makes use of its rural backdrop to heighten the melancholic atmosphere to the point that had Edgar Allan Poe also been a fledgling set designer, Gothika‘s sets would have been the result. The support acting by Robert Downey Jr. is superb but the insinuated history between his character (a peer) felt grossly overlooked for a ghost story. And, please, forgive me lest this come off as one of those instances of ‘what I would have done, instead,’ but with a movie featuring snuff movies and a sordid skeleton by the slain husband, would proceedings not be better served by Miranda coming across his porno stash and sex den instead of a hackneyed serving of justice on behalf of the wronged dead? Murder, infidelity, and possible pedophilia are all grounds for a viable breaking point than becoming the vessel of paranormal justice. Because it’s either that or the reminder of the failure of living up to adjacent superior works by comparison.
Sometimes rowdy, sometimes pouty.