An hour of broody atmosphere and half an hour of silly revelation pretty much sum up Halle Berry’s supernatural thriller “Gothika.”
A decent cast, a creepy setting and an intriguing story idea ultimately go to waste, with “Gothika” devolving into a muddle of twists and turns as the movie desperately searches for a third act and comes up empty.
“Gothika” is a step up in ambition for Joel Silver and Robert Zemeckis’ horror outfit Dark Castle Entertainment, which previously produced the cheesy fright flicks “House on Haunted Hill,” “Thirteen Ghosts” and “Ghost Ship.”
While the movie aims for class early on with the promise of a thoughtfully understated ghost story in the manner of “The Sixth Sense” or “The Others,” “Gothika” eventually falls back on a cheap-thrills payoff, and not a very good or scary one at that.
Berry plays Miranda Grey, a psychologist who treats violent criminals at a prison psychiatric ward run by her hubby, Douglas (Charles S. Dutton).
Tautly paced opening sequences by director Mathieu Kassovitz and screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez skillfully establish the gothic-castle feel of the dark, hulking prison and the key players: Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.), Miranda’s puppy-eyed colleague who’s clearly in love with her; Sheriff Ryan (John Carroll Lynch), Douglas’ fishing buddy; and Miranda’s patient Chloe (Penelope Cruz), who rants that Satan stops by her cell to rape and torture her.
Driving home one rainy night, Miranda must take a detour over a narrow wooden bridge where she encounters a vision of a mutilated girl that bursts into flame.
Three days later, Miranda wakes up in a cell at her own psych ward, accused of savagely killing her husband with an ax, a crime about which she has no memory.
Before you can say conflict of interest, Miranda’s put under the care of former co-worker Pete, family pal Ryan takes the lead on the murder investigation, and Miranda’s attorney dad steps in to handle her defense.
There’s potential for a tingly descent into cloistered madness here, but the filmmakers don’t know where to turn with the story after a handful of chilling manifestations as Miranda slowly uncovers the identity of the burning girl in her vision.
The movie builds tension for a while as supporting characters waffle from suspects to sympathizers, with most of them petering out to red-herring appendages.
The jailers prove conveniently inept at keeping Miranda confined, allowing her to muck about almost at will before tumbling into a series of laughable disclosures posing as dirty little secrets.
“Gothika” leaves behind ludicrous loose ends in terms of who actually did what. And from its tacked-on epilogue, the movie clearly exists in a realm where possession by spirits from beyond is a viable legal defense.
Before he’s snuffed, Miranda’s husband tells her, “The ability to repress is actually a vital survival tool.”
The key to surviving “Gothika”: Repress the urge to buy a ticket.