Gothika Mathieu Kassovitz

Gothika Mathieu Kassovitz
Penélope Cruz as an unglamorous mental case? Robert Downey Jr. as a shrink with access to prescription pads? There's much more implausibility where that came from in Gothika, but it's an effective psycho-thriller regardless. The cast is primo, the story clever, the look sleek and fluid, courtesy of French actor-director Kassovitz and DP Matthew Libatique (who provide joint commentary on the DVD), and you can see the twists coming a quarter of a mile off instead of the usual mile. The central star, Halle Berry, is aces as Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist whose table is turned when she wakes up in the mental ward with no memory of the gruesome crime she allegedly committed. Her intelligence and strength are established in the first reel, but once caged, her nervous, frantic behaviour combines with those steadfast traits in a way that's very real — she's not an unshakable superwoman or a quaking scream-queen, she's appropriately confused and scared, crafty and smart. The clash between her logical, scientific self and her supernatural experiences are very Scully, but Kassovitz doesn't dwell on her psychological tug-of-war. Instead, he gets physical with big "boo!" scares, chase scenes, brief, brutal flashes of gore and slick flashbacks in rewound slow-mo. If anything, we see too much of the supernatural forces and more layers of mystery are stripped away with so-so effects; Kassovitz and Libatique admit as much in the commentary, referring specifically to some sketchy CGI fire in the film's climax. With his first stab at Hollywood, Kassovitz may have gone too flash (this is the guy who made La Haine for God's sake) and Libatique's blue filtration is just excessive. Horror buffs, however, will dig the fear, abide the trash and appreciate a sweet cast. Plus: Limp Bizkit video, more. (Warner)