Gothika (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I have to admit that this campfire story fooled me.

Halle Berry plays a respected psychiatrist who wakes up one day confined as a patient to the same hospital where she had been a physician.  In fact, being a physican there is the last thing she remembers when she wakes up as a patient. (She has no memory of the intervening three days and nights.)

Even in the most difficult of circumstances, a physician would not be confined to the mental institution where she had been on staff three days earlier. In addition, automatic writing appears on Halle's skin and on her prison walls, and she sees ghosts. Finally, Halle is locked in a cell with no toilet. Therefore, given the surrealism inherent in those circumstances, I assumed she must be either dreaming or dead, in the tradition of Jacob's Ladder or The Sixth Sense.

I was wrong.

You can probably understand why I erred. The authorities really did throw her into her own institution; she really was locked in a cell with no toilet; and there really were ghosts.

Essentially, the presence of real ghosts explained all the unexplainable mysteries, including some elements of her patients' cases which she had been unable to understand back in her psychiatrist days. Indeed, Halle learned that anything in the world which didn't previously make sense - anything from the patients' paranoia, to the square root of minus one, to the 2000 balloting in Florida -  can be attributed to ghosts.

Well, except for romance - you can blame that on the Bossa Nova.

It really made me re-think my life. I realize that I have had the ghost-to-dance ratio all wrong in my blame calculations.

In the past, whenever things didn't work out the way I planned, I used to blame pretty much everything on the Bossa Nova. It started early on. My mom would say, "how did this room get so messed up, Mr. Smarty-Pants Future Webmaster, and what are all those scuff marks on the floor?", and I would respond, "Ma, the Bossa Nova contest?? Duh!!". I got to a point in my mid-twenties where I couldn't accept any responsibility for my own actions. I'd blame the Bossa Nova for my substance abuse, for the dissolution of my first marriage, even for the fact that my musical career wasn't doing as well as that of Joćo Gilberto.

Oh, wait a minute. That last one really was the fault of the Bossa Nova. But I was wrong about all the other stuff - everything except the Gilberto thing.

What was I thinking of? How could I have thought all my problems were caused by some silly, but infectious, Latin rhythm? Now I realize that nearly all of those things should have been blamed on ghosts. Logical enough. I can't imagine why I couldn't figure it out before this. If only Gothika had been made a few decades earlier. I would have been so much wiser.

Even if you accept the omnipresent interference of ghosts as the explanation for all human mysteries, ranging from the Dewey-Truman headline to the career of Justin Timberlake, you may get irritated by the way Halle got out of a corner that the script painted her into. Halfway through the film, it seemed hopeless for Our Girl. Incarcerated, drugged, haunted by ghosts, accused of murder, advised by her lawyer to plead insanity, and with all of the evidence stacked high enough to convict her beyond any reasonable doubt, Halle seemed doomed to spend the rest of her life in an institution.

You be the screenwriter. How could the script possibly get her out of that?

Easy as pie:

  • First, Halle breaks free from the institution by overpowering a guard in her cell, taking his keys, and using the high-tech approach of "running away", a master plan which goes off without a hitch, abetted by her especially tricky move of hiding underwater in a swimming pool. A clear, indoor swimming pool. No bubbles, no colored water, no jets of water, no waves.

  • Second, after her escape, with all of the local law enforcement officers and the entire FBI looking for her pretty ass, she makes the even more deceptive move of driving to her own house. And nobody thinks to look there.

That escape process starts into motion a final act which consists of the oldest crime movie cliché in the book, the ol' "The police believe I'm guilty and have closed the case, so I'll have to escape and solve the crime myself" trick. Even with her heroics, Halle still would have had trouble solving the crime, except that the ubiquitous ghosties helped her. Ghosts, it seems, have their own agendas, and sometimes they will assist humans in a crime scene investigation if it frees their souls, or punishes their murderers, or perhaps just because they're bored with the whole spooky noises thing. It is not known whether the ghost detectives wear invisible fedoras and chain-smoke Phantom Chesterfields.

Can you see why I was fooled, why I thought that none of it was real, and that it must all have been a dream of some kind?

I guess I'm being pretty mean, and when you couple that nastiness with the feeble 17% good reviews, you might conclude that the film is entirely without merit. After all, 17% is down there with Boat Trip and Gigli. You have to assume this movie sucks, right?

That assumption wouldn't be fair.

This is the kind of movie where you want to praise the director (Matthew Kassovitz) and criticize his film. I liked a lot of what he accomplished here. I liked the sets he chose, and I admired the way he maintained the atmosphere with a deft balance of lighting, music, dampness, rapid camera movement, effective acting, and nimble editing. Very creepy stuff, lots of "boo" moments. Even though the critics didn't care for it, the film grossed $59 million and Yahoo voters were enthusiastic, scoring it a B on the average, based on thousands of votes.

So there's no denying that it had some appeal and some strengths. Unfortunately, the second half of the script cried out for the Monty Python "too silly" guy.

Kassovitz will undoubtedly make some great genre films in the future. He almost pulled it off here, but he just didn't have the stud hoss script he needed.

"So tell me again, where am I supposed to take a dump?"


There is a dark shower scene filled with naked women.

Halle Berry was seen completely naked from the side, but it is essentially a non-nude nude.

No home media information currently available.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2/4.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 5.5/10, Yahoo voters score it a B
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. It's neither very good nor very bad. It's a run-of-the-mill ghost story which had some excellent atmosphere and a few very scary moments, but was ultimately betrayed by a weak mystery plot.

Return to the Movie House home page