Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com
"Are you scared? Well, you should be," Penélope Cruz tells co-star Halle Berry in Gothika. The only thing missing is the beat, and then: "You're on Scare Tactics!" But Cruz can console herself with other fun lines such as, "He opened me like a flower of pain."
Yep, Gothika is one loopy movie. Just like the other new Dark Castle Entertainment film productions from Warner Bros., (The House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts and Ghost Ship) Gothika is definitely style over substance. Whether you're willing to pay full price at the box office to see that is up to you, but if you go in knowing you're not seeing the next classic-to-be, you just might have a little fun.
Unlike those other films (for the most part), Gothika does have some substance over style in the talent department -- director Mathieu Kassovitz did The Crimson Rivers, a serial killer yarn that wowed the critics a couple of years ago, and headlining star Halle Berry is a real-live Academy Award-winning Best Actress. No slouches themselves, costars Robert Downey Jr. and Penélope Cruz are both friendly with various awards (Downey, Jr. was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Chaplin, and Cruz won a Goya for Open Your Eyes).
The story of Gothika is crazy but lurid fun: Berry plays a criminal psychologist who wakes up after a car accident inside the self-same psych ward she once supervised. Her husband (Charles S. Dutton) has been brutally and bloodily murdered, and the waif-like ghost of a blonde teen is stalking the good doctor. So what's a girl to do? She befriends a teary patient (Cruz) who claims that she's being raped by the devil, and she tries to convince her skeptical friend and former colleague (Downey, Jr.) that she is not insane. With the words "Not Alone" carved on her arm and her penchant for talking into mirrors, she has her work cut out for her.
There is definitely some unintentional humor in Gothika and the actors seem to be taking their roles far too seriously, but it is also dripping with dark and creepy horror atmosphere, and there are some genuinely chilling haunting sequences as well (some of the jerky-moving phantoms from Thirteen Ghosts are back on duty here in the psych ward). It's actually a beautiful movie to look at, and taken at face value it is 90 minutes of an eerie spook-fest and that's that.
Basically, Gothika is very similar to its Dark Castle Entertainment cousins: if you enjoyed the scares in The House on Haunted Hill, Thirteen Ghosts and Ghost Ship, then Gothika will fit right in with your large popcorn and your giant-sized cola.