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DVD REVIEW:  Gothika

I have to admit that I have been growing a bit weary of haunted insane asylum stories. Over the past couple of years I have seen about a dozen such films, each more stereotypical and mundane in plotline and scare tactics than the last. So, when I received the movie GOTHIKA in the mail from Netflix last week, I was a little reluctant to view it, but after a few days of glaring at the red envelope on my desk I relented and settled in to watch the movie. I had fully expected to be lulled into a cozy afternoon nap within the first ten minutes.

However, within the first five minutes of the film, I knew GOTHIKA was no ordinary, run-of-the-mill ghost story and I was pleased to find myself actually sitting forward in my seat and turning the volume up as I waited with anticipation to see how the story would unfold. The premise of GOTHIKA is simple enough: Miranda Grey (Halle Berry), an overworked perfectionist psychiatrist finds herself possessed by a seemingly evil female spirit which seeks revenge on her killers. After waking up in the very asylum where she works with only a vague memory of the previous nights events, she is told by her fellow psychiatrist Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.) that she has murdered her own husband, the director of the asylum Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton). Determined to prove her innocence Miranda follows the clues, which the possessing spirit leaves her in order to find the truth behind both Miranda’s situation and woman trying desperately to reach out to the living through her.

Very easily, this film could have taken a very stodgy and predictable turn leading the viewer through a solemn two hours of darkly lit rooms of dank gray brick and images of tortured ghosts reflected in rain-washed windowpanes. However, from the very moment the story begins it plunges headlong into the plot and quickly engages the viewer with a face-paced storyline development. The characters are introduced with a perfect timing, which allows for just enough back-story build to give them credibility while not bogging down the pace of the film with too much extraneous and unnecessary information.

Throughout the film, the intensity is maintained with a seemingly effortless sequence of intense action scenes interspersed with more thoughtfully designed interaction scenes between Miranda and Pete or Miranda and her previous patient Chloe Sava (Penelope Cruz), whom Miranda had been previously treating before her own admission into the asylum for satanic “delusions” after a violent rape. While Downey’s performance was not exactly noteworthy as this was not particularly a challenging role for him, Halle Berry’s performance, and even that of Penelope Cruz, was particularly gripping and realistic. Berry’s portrayal of a woman thrust violently into the very archaic and brutal system she once thought perfectly appropriate for her patients is truly believable and raw. Cruz’s depiction of a woman driven to the point of insanity by her own internal, as well as external, demons is equally gripping to the point that I did not instantly recognize her on the screen. Truly impressive.

While, yes, GOTHIKA is yet another story of supernatural possession and ghostly revenge, it stands apart from its dark brethren with a defiant cinematic voice. For all of its inherent simplicity, the story told is unpredictable and engaging, keeping the viewer truly wondering what the next plot turn will be until the very end. If you are in the mood for a good ghost story, I highly recommend adding this film to your Netflix cue. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

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