Psychiatrist Miranda Grey's (Berry) life appears to be perfect until - after a car accident - she wakes up as an inmate in her own asylum, accused of the murder of her husband. Remembering nothing after the crash she fears she is insane, and things begin to get weirder as she's tortured by visions of a dead teenager.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the horror movie. The first is that the classics of the genre work through an exquisitely realised attention to form, ratcheting up tension before delivering an emotionally satisfying catharsis. The other involves sudden loud bangs and Halle Berry shrieking a lot. Gothika adheres firmly to the latter view.
Despite stealing from recent horror hits Ringu and The Sixth Sense, Gothika never delivers anything more than the occasional, cynically engineered jolt and often drifts close to provoking giggles. Berry delivers a performance that fails to rise above the mediocre, but can count herself lucky as Penelope Cruz's sinks way below it.
Sebastian Gutierrez's over-cooked screenplay provides director Kassovitz with more than enough trope to hang himself, serving up every cliche from endless thunderstorms and creepy asylums to flickering strip-lights and that 'spooky' backwards sound effect that no hackneyed horror these days is ever without, before applying the tin lid with a 'twist' ending more carefully signposted than wet floors in an orthopaedic ward.
And, frankly, you really have to wonder about an institution for the criminally insane with Robert Downey Jr. in charge; surely a clear case of a successful lunatic/asylum takeover bid.
An overwrought horror movie that lavishes budget and production design on a screenplay that should never have seen the light of day. And, no, no one ever explains what the title means.