Film Reviews:


(?, US, 2003)

Halley Berry is a doctor working in a psychiatric hospital. Her husband is on the senior staff, whilst one of her colleagues, played by Robert Downey Jr, has a soft-spot for her. She has a wonderful husband and they have a happy life together. But all this is thrown into turmoil when, after a car accident in a storm, Berry wakes with amnesia only to find herself accused of murder and confined in her own hospital. The doctor has become the patient. To make matters even more complicated, the only thing she does remember is seeing the dead daughter of the hospital manager standing in the road just before the crash.

It's not surprising that this didn't do much at the US box office, for despite the presence of A-List star Halley Berry, this is a dark, non feel good and, yes, gothic little film. Part ghost story, part serial killer film. As a vehicle for the star wishing to broaden her acting range, "Gothika" succeeds well with Berry looking quite bedraggled, frizzy-haired and decidedly unglamorous for 90% of the running time. Given the material, her performance is necessarily hysterical at times, but Berry does deliver a strong central performance, so crucial to a film structured entirely around her character. One imagines that Berry (or her agent) might have seen Oscar potential in the script as everything hinges on the audience being a) sympathetic to Berry's character from the outset, and b) believing the character's rapid decline into apparent madness.

Director NAME, seems to have been heavily influenced by M. Night Shamalyan's work, especiallly "The Sixth Sense" for the ghostly apparitions and "Unbreakable" for the rain-drenched night sequences. But NAME does have a talent of his own and this ensures that the finished film reflects what must have been a decidedly dark script. NAME's music is terrific and manages to convey all the right moods whilst deftly avoiding the obvious or cliche that, say John Williams, would have delivered. Robert Downey Jr's performance is oddly unbalanced. It's hard to tell whose to blame here, director, script or actor, but although I'm a fan of Downey's I suspect he is the source of often unconvincing character nuances (and facial expressions).

But most pleasurable of all is seeing a film that is so determindly dark both metaphorically and lliterally in spite of the star billing. It's a hackneyed device but most of the story seems to appear either at night or at night... in a storm. The locations are few, with the majority of the 'action' taking place in psychiatric hospital. A place (real or created - I do not know) that has almost as much character as its human inhabitants. A special mention here is well-deserved for director of photography NAME whose striking work manages to bring something original to the look despite the familiar trappings. Indeed, it is the film's many impressive technical and stylistic accomplishments and Berry's solid central performance that help to raise this above the average. 7/10 XXXXXX Rob Dyer 07-04-04 6/10

Rob Dyer

See also:

The Sixth Sense

A-Z of Film Reviews