Monday, January 6, 2014

Gothika (2003)(Spoiler Review)

**This review contains spoilers**

Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) is a dedicated psychiatrist, and she’s trying to help a troubled patient. Chloe (Penelope Cruz) pleads her case to Miranda, but Miranda dismisses accusations of rape within the hospital as paranoia from Chloe’s mental illness.

At the same mental hospital, Miranda works with her boss and  husband, Dr. Douglas Grey (Charles S. Dutton), another psychiatrist named Pete Graham (Robert Downey, Jr.), and Phil Parsons (Bernard Hill). During a stormy night, Doug’s best friend and the town Sheriff, Sheriff Ryan (John Carroll Lynch) instructs Miranda to take a detour on the routine trip home to avoid a dangerous sinkhole.

On the back roads, Miranda spots a petrified girl standing in the middle of the street. Miranda tries to help, but the girl catches fire out of nowhere. The flames engulf Miranda after the girl touches her, and Miranda is the victim of an unexpected blackout.

Miranda awakes in the mental hospital, but she’s not a doctor anymore. Miranda is wearing a hospital gown, and she’s locked in her cell as a patient. Confused and desperate for answers, Miranda learns the reasons for her imprisonment from Pete: Doug was murdered on the night of the storm, and Miranda is the prime suspect.

As a patient, Miranda is forced to rely on Chloe and Pete as allies, and Chloe’s stories about a mysterious attacker could lead Miranda in the right direction, and give her the answers she‘s looking for. And a bitter Sheriff Ryan won’t stop until he punishes Doug’s killer. Phil takes control of the mental hospital after Doug’s death, and Miranda tries to learn more about the girl in flames. Is Miranda a cold-blooded killer, who snapped and murdered her husband? Or is Miranda the victim of an uncontrollable and deadly demonic possession?

Halle Berry delivers the best performance as Miranda Grey. Miranda Grey is a broken and confused woman, who’s struggling to find some solace in her life after an unspeakable tragedy. Berry is head and shoulders above everyone else in this cast, as the rattled widow, who’s determined to uncover the truth, and Berry will convince you to believe in Miranda’s side of the story.

Penelope Cruz provides the second best performance in this cast, as the unhinged victim with a quirky sense of humor. Robert Downey, Jr. is decent enough as Pete, and it’s not fair to judge Charles S. Dutton’s performance as Doug. Doug has ONE scene within the first ten minutes of the movie. After that, Doug’s appearances are limited to sporadic flashbacks, and that’s it. And John Carroll Lynch is harmless as Sheriff Ryan. You’ll see his true colors during the finale (more on that later), and there’s a scene, where Sheriff Ryan loses his cool during a tense Q & A session with Miranda, but one outburst isn’t something to brag about.

Who’s the girl in flames? It’s Phil’s deceased daughter, Rachel. Rachel’s death was an apparent suicide, but Miranda escapes the hospital to search for the truth. Miranda’s investigation leads her to Doug’s farmhouse in Willow Creek, Rhode Island. In a secret underground lair, Miranda discovers a torture chamber with a bed. Here, Miranda learns the truth: Rachel didn‘t commit suicide. Instead, Rachel and other young girls were Doug’s victims in a series of brutal sexual assaults and murders.

For years, Doug lived a double life kidnapping and killing young girls, and Miranda never suspected anything, because Doug embodied the persona of the perfect husband. As a ghost, Rachel used her powers to possess Miranda. Under Rachel’s influence, Miranda killed Doug.

But it’s not over yet. As a warning sign, Rachel carved “Not alone” in one of Miranda’s arms. Miranda couldn’t figure out the meaning behind this warning at first, but everything comes together towards the end. Rachel was trying to drop a hint about Doug’s partner in crime, or his disciple.

During an awkward conversation with Sheriff Ryan in her jail cell, Miranda finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together. As Doug’s best friend, Sheriff Ryan was Doug’s accomplice, and Ryan is the one, who continuously  raped Chloe, because Sheriff Ryan had easy access to the mental hospital. And Miranda used Sheriff Ryan’s tattoo of a woman in flames (Anima Sola) as a crucial clue to expose Ryan as the second killer (Miranda also spotted the tattoo during a rape involving Chloe at the hospital).

Sheriff Ryan tries to attack and kill Miranda, because she has the evidence to convict Ryan. But Rachel’s ghost shows up at the last second to help Miranda during the fight. Rachel uses her powers to burn Sheriff Ryan, and Miranda uses a gun to kill Ryan with one shot to the head. To end the movie, Miranda and Chloe embrace as free women, and Chloe thanks Miranda for her help. In return, Miranda thanks Chloe for opening her eyes.

My thoughts on the big reveals at the end? It’s a double-edged sword for a few reasons. Yes, BOTH reveals are genuinely shocking. First, Miranda unknowingly wanders into this dungeon of horrors to learn about the other side of her husband’s double-life, and Berry did a job of selling the surprise with this horrified and shocked look on her face.

The Sheriff Ryan reveal was executed to perfection. Miranda and Ryan are just sitting together, and they’re having this casual chat. But Miranda uses her skills as a  psychiatrist to analyze Ryan’s personality, and in a matter of moments, Miranda realizes Ryan is the disciple. It’s a good swerve, because one minute you get the impression Miranda and Ryan are one step closer to solving the mystery of the second killer together. But Miranda is forced to fight off a crazed Sheriff Ryan after his confession.

The bad side? Two big plot holes. Okay, so if Rachel uses her powers to burn Ryan alive, then why did she possess Miranda, and force her to kill Doug? When you stop and think about it, possessing Miranda was unnecessary, because Rachel had the power to kill Doug AND Sheriff Ryan by herself with no help.

Also, I’m supposed to believe NOBODY at the hospital notices the town Sheriff, who removes his shirt to reveal the big tattoo on his chest, and his suspicious behavior? You know, the guy, who constantly “sneaks” in and out of the hospital on a weekly basis. Seriously? Sorry, but Gothika opens the gap in logic problems, when they show off the complex security system.

Gothika is far from perfect. The preposterous stuff (i.e. Miranda’s escape from the hospital) and the plot holes will annoy most people, and Gothika has an infamous legacy as a panned turkey. But I guess I’m in the small crowd of twenty people, who actually enjoy Gothika.

Yeah, I know it’s loaded with problems, but Gothika features an intriguing murder mystery, and the constant twists and turns will keep you guessing until the very end. Who’s the culprit? Is it Pete? Chloe? Or is Miranda a ruthless murderer, who waited for the right moment to unleash her rage on Doug? The answers to Miranda’s questions aren’t so easy to figure out, because Gothika constantly shifts the spotlight to different suspects throughout the movie.

Plus, Gothika doesn’t rely on tons of blood and gore to get the job done, and that’s a refreshing change for mainstream R-rated horror films. During a flashback, Miranda relives Doug’s murder, and you can see Doug’s bloody legs twisted behind him, but it‘s a quick shot, so you barely see anything. And when she returns to the house, Miranda has a vision of herself sitting in a bathtub full of blood, but that’s it, because you won’t see anything too gross or extreme in Gothika.

Rating: 6/10

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