Not that the psychological suspense flick Gothika is entirely subtle. The movie opens, for instance, with Penelope Cruz addressing the camera to describe coitus with Satan. Later, because it worked so well in the Matrix movies, Silver has a fat, shaven-headed black man (Charles S. Dutton this time) set the tone with a bunch of portentous dialogue about individual realities. And there's still an obligatory nude scene. (Stars Halle Berry and Cruz have already done their time in the trenches, so we get a bunch of ugly, insane chicks in a group shower scene that presumably hits someone's fetish somewhere.)
Berry is criminal psychologist Miranda Grey. She's as rational as Mr. Spock and, uncharacteristically for Berry, generates about as much heat with onscreen hubbie Dutton as a Vulcan would. Meanwhile, coworker Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr., doing a shticky impersonation of himself) has the hots for her, which is only natural given that she's the only female in the vicinity of Woodward Penitentiary who's not insane.
On a dark and stormy night (Lord knows, there's no other kind), Grey is on her way home when she sees a creepy little girl (terrifying newcomer Kathleen Mackey) standing in the middle of the road. The good doctor swerves, crashes and runs out to help the girl, who promptly bursts into flame and grabs Grey by the hair. Fade to black. Next thing we know, Grey wakes up as a patient in her own institution, accused of a crime she has no memory of committing.
Grey is treated by Graham, the coworker who tried to initiate an affair with her previously. The sheriff investigating the murder is the best friend of the victim. Conflicts of interest, anyone? And about that group shower scene -- is there a worse idea than gathering a large group of criminally insane women in one big room with minimal security? Security in general is peculiarly bad at Woodward Penitentiary: If an asylum guard can't handle Halle Berry, we have a problem.
Mackey's malevolent spirit is as freaky to look at as the possessed Linda Blair was back in the '70s, and director Mathieu Kassovitz gets a lot of mileage from shots that hold back on the horror until the very last minute. And unlike, say, The Others, Gothika brings the gore (though it doesn't go overboard with it the way the other Dark Castle films have). It's too bad that the climax jettisons most of the supernatural elements in favor of a real-world threat that comes off as a little silly. Silver's out to shock, though, and on that level, he scores.