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“Gothika” is a paranormal horror film about women being assumed liars.
Dr. Miranda Grey, played by Halle Berry, works at a rambling beautiful but fairly decrepit mental hospital. Its secure wards feature electronic locks (with, apparently, no manual locks as back up) despite the fact that building’s wiring is faulty and they lose power several times a week. Dr. Grey is successful in her career and in her love life, happily married to another doctor– the hospital director. After driving home one stormy night, however, she wakes up in a cell of the hospital she works at, under the care of a former co-worker. To Grey’s horror, she’s told that she’s the prime (only) suspect in the brutal, horrific murder of her husband. Grey insists she didn’t do it, although all evidence points directly to her. Her claims are dismissed just as the claims of Chloe, a patient alleging that someone has been coming into her cell to rape her, are dismissed. Nobody seems to care that she has no motive. Other than her lawyer, everyone in control of the situation is a white man.
There’s ethical questions about Grey’s situation. She’s in the care of a co-worker whose romantic overtures she rejected. That seems a pretty big conflict of interest. She’s at the hospital she worked at, in the company of patients she used to have control over and is now at the mercy of should they desire revenge or some sort. Providing day to day care are nurses and security guards she’s interacted with every day, so hopefully none of them have an axe to grind with their former boss. The detective investigating her husband’s murder was his best friend, and already convinced she’s guilty.
In this horrific situation, Grey starts seeing ghostly activity, causing her to doubt her mental stability. Then the ghost physically lets her out of her cell, and she witnesses another person in Chloe’s cell, raping her, matching the description Chloe previously gave Grey when she was Chloe’s doctor. She starts to realize there’s a lot more going on than she thought… and to suspect that a ghost possessed her and used her body to murder her husband. But why?
Grey stages a daring escape that includes one of the best hiding places I’ve seen in a movie, and hinges on a sympathetic security guard aiding her. She checks out her home, and the property her husband and his best friend were fixing up. There, she discovers a secret about her husband that explains why a ghost would want to take him out.
It’s a pretty tight movie. I’d heard overwhelmingly negative things about it, but found the story and acting pretty top notch. At its heart, this is more than just a ghost story. Dr Grey and Chloe are both women of color who are in prison and believed to be crazy and/or lying. Their claims are utterly dismissed, even when one of them (rape in a prison) is depressingly common. Men in a position of power prey on women, and trust that their privilege will protect them, will keep other people in positions of power from believing the women they prey upon. The vengeful ghost is a woman who was disbelieved. People, including her father, found it more plausible that she’d run away and killed herself than been murdered, even though she’d shown no sign of suicidal ideation previously.
I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars.
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