Nope, we haven't yet figured out why it's called 'Gothika'. Or why everyone but Robert Downey Jr has such a bad haircut. But the latest virtually bloodless supernatural thriller will make you question a lot more, not least of which is the plot.
Halle Berry is Dr. Miranda Grey, a brilliant (or so we're told) criminal psychologist who counsels the inmates of an eerily-lit penitentiary straight out of Transylvania. If that isn't recipe for disaster right there. Her colleague Pete Graham (the delectable Downey Jr) is hitting on her and she's resisting, on account of being enormously (ha) happy in her marriage to the chief of psychiatry (Dutton).
The film opens well, with a counseling session in progress, when Chloe (an un-prettified Cruz) tells Dr. Grey that she's been raped by the devil - flower of pain, leaping flames, etc. Tackling this with determined logic, Miranda works off her helpless frustrations with 55 laps in a scary swimming pool, and heads home to her husband. Forced to take a detour, she ends up on an isolated bridge, nearly driving into a half-naked girl standing motionless in the middle of the road.
Next thing she knows, she's imprisoned in her own psychiatric ward for having brutally murdered her husband. This she has no memory of. So she has to trace back her steps to find out exactly what happened on that dark, stormy night. She has to find out if she's really as criminally insane as everyone keeps telling her she is. So far so good. You're drawn in, spooked, and expecting an intelligent and terrifying look at the human psyche and at what happens to a person when she's been around too many crazy people. The story of a shrink who's lost her marbles is irrestistible. But what you get is a total 'supernatural' cop-out. Ghosts flitting about, a bathtub filled with blood, and sudden loud sounds. Very What Lies Beneath.
So it turns out that Dr. Grey isn't deluded, she's possessed. Right, got that. The ghost is that of a spontaneously combustible young girl, drenched and with hair falling all over her face (The Ring?) who, of course, is trying to tell the good doctor 'something'. Why she has to scare the bejeezes out of her to do this is anyone's guess.
Once she starts paying attention, Miranda uncovers a string of clues and evidence of bad, bad goings-on. And realizes that what the logical dismiss as insane ravings of a pyschotic mind might just be a distorted version of the truth. Is all this completely predictable? Absolutely. Will it make you jump out of your seat and spill your Pepsi into your neighbour's lap? Oh yeah.
Gothika is the classic example of lots of 'atmosphere' covering up very little substance. The creepy lighting and blue-greyness splashed with red set the mood, and there are some images that may come back to disturb you, but these are more by way of cheap thrills - products of the Say Boo! School Of Horror-Film Making.
Berry is earnest in her role, but there's not much call for her to do anything other than scream and scream throughout. Downey Jr and Cruz are totally wasted in their miniscule roles. At the end of it all, Gothika is about as nerve-wracking and ultimately as satisfying as a damp squib.