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Psychological Thriller <i>Gothika</i> Attempts to Break Scary Movie Stereotypes - 2003-11-29

Oscar-winner Halle Berry, Penelope Cruz and Robert Downey Jr. co-star in a gothic thriller about the demons that can lurk within our own minds. Alan Silverman has a look at Gothika.

We first see psychiatrist Miranda Gray while she is trying to treat Chloe, an apparently psychotic woman locked up in a state hospital for the criminally insane.

It is a question that comes back to haunt Dr. Gray when, after a bizarre encounter with a ghostly character on a stormy night, she winds up an in the asylum. Halle Berry stars as Dr. Gray and admits the role kind of got to her.

"I had lots of nightmares while making this movie," she admits, "and I think that was my body's way of sort of processing all of this scary, freaky information that I pumped into it all day and the things that I had to conjure up in my mind to get to some of these places. It was my body's way of discarding it or working through it through my dreams or something."

The fact that these two women are trapped and that they know they are right and no one is listening to them: that for me is terrifying.

Penelope Cruz co-stars as the psychologically scarred Chloe, but the Spanish-born actress says she didn't observe or interview mental patients to help create the character.

"I didn't approach the character like that because I don't think Chloe is crazy," she explains. "I think they are making her sick because they don't listen to what she has to say and she knows she is right. I believe that can make someone sick. She is just very angry and behaving like an animal because of all that pain. She is living in hell. I understand that very easily. I didn't have to meet anyone going through that to understand her anger. It would make me so furious to think of somebody in that situation. That, for me, is much more scary than the ghost . . . much more."

Gothika is directed by French-born actor and filmmaker Matthieu Kassovitz, who made a special effort to deglamorize his two beautiful stars: "trashed them," as Kassovitz puts it, but he felt it was important to help audiences get past the scary movie stereotypes.

"I was scared when I started because I thought I'm going to be with these two beautiful girls in a woman's prison with a ghost around: that can be really cheesy [cheap]," he says. " Is it going to be like all playmates around? There's a shower scene, how are we going to do that? It's too much."

Whatever it is that is haunting the women in Gothika gives them brutal treatment beatings, cuts, bruises and very bad hair days; but Cruz says it was important to serve the character.

"I like giving that to character if that's what the character needs and I'm n-o-t afraid of that. I've done it many times in my European films. Here it's the first time in an American movie. I'm never afraid of that because it's what she needs," says Cruz.

Berry believes dressing down is good n-o-t only for the character, but for the actor as well.

"It's really cathartic n-o-t to have to worry about your looks, especially in an industry in which sometimes it becomes all about that. Sometimes it's nice to say 'hey, it's really n-o-t all about that for us.' " says Berry. "I don't think you can enjoy dressing up if you don't really dress down; and you can't really dress down if you don't dress up. It's like you can't really feel pain if you haven't felt joy. I think it's the same theory, in a way."

Gothika also features Robert Downey Jr. as Dr. Gray's psychiatrist colleague; and Charles S. Dutton plays her husband. It comes from Dark Castle Entertainment, a company set up by producer Joel Silver and filmmaker Robert Zemeckis to turn out dark, intense thrillers.