Halle Berry had the Bond movie in the can and the X-Men sequel on the way when she won her Best Actress Oscar for 2001’s Monster’s Ball, so Gothika is her first parlay of the little golden guy into a name above the title. That’s a fact not lost on French director Mathieu Kassovitz (Hate), who turns this supernatural thriller into a frighteningly single-minded—though hardly frightening—star vehicle. Psychiatrist Miranda Grey (Berry) wakes up as a patient in the same mental hospital where she practiced, having no recollection of her involvement in the events of several days earlier. Miranda’s memory contradicts what viewers saw her do on the night in question: try to help a distraught young woman on a dark and rain-slicked country road after nearly running her over. Miranda instead remembers returning home—but that’s the wrong memory to have, given the murder rap she’s facing. As a woman of science, the good Dr. Grey tries to analyze the situation psychologically. But once that strange young woman starts walking through her cell walls and slicing messages into her forearm, Miranda comes up with a distinctly unscientific diagnosis: ghostly possession. Sebastián Gutiérrez’s script is sparing in its clues, playing up the mood but not giving viewers much to guess at. All that matters is that there’s a ghost in the House of Halle, and Kassovitz does little more than come up with some fake-out shock cuts and a smidgen of gore to up the ante. The screenwriter and director do oblige their star with plenty to do, however, and for good reason: Berry has a certain facility for portraying characters in torment, but if she’s not going over the top, she can be a nonpresence as an actress. So we get Miranda angrily protesting her innocence and sanity to her not-much-help doctor (an uncharacteristically sedate Robert Downey Jr.), freaked-out free-for-alls between the psychiatrist and her angry ghost, and fast-paced running and gunning during various escape attempts. It’s all adds up to a fair enough diversion, but in terms of horror, this particular exercise is more a Berry movie than a scary movie. —Todd Hitchcock

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