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In the first role taken after her Monster's Ball Oscar, Halle Berry stars as a psychiatrist who wakes up in a mind-f**ed state of affairs.


Halle Berry stars as Dr. Miranda Grey, a well liked and respected psychotherapist happily married to the beloved head of the psychiatric ward at an old, damp women's penitentiary (Charles S. Dutton). One stormy night, taking a detour on her drive home, she's involved in a terrifying encounter with a young girl that causes her car to go off the road, and the impact of the crash knocks Miranda out cold. She wakes up on the wrong side of a Plexiglas cell door in the very prison where she and her husband work (apparently this the only prison in the state), to find her husband's been killed, and she is the prime suspect in his gruesome murder. With no memory of the past few days, she is confined alongside her former patients, like the Satan-paranoid Chloe (Penelope Cruz), and scrutinized by her once-flirtatious coworker Dr. Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). Miranda insists she didn't kill her husband, but quickly starts to doubt her own sanity when a violent force from the not-so-sweet hereafter turns her into a Spirit World conduit. Meanwhile the good doctor wants desperately to prove her sane and innocent even as unseen forces, bizarre sightings and bad lines get in the way.


You can practically see Berry's slight shoulders hunching under the weight of this oppressive, wet flapdoodle of a psycho-mystic mystery that has The Ring written all over it. Berry gets the baffled/terrified/uncontrollable prisoner thing right, says ''Shit!'' a lot, and gets plenty of screen time to flesh out her character (no, not THAT kind of flesh; she's drenched in the shower and submerged in the swimming pool, but Berry never once pulls a Swordfish). Still cute after years of hard living, Downey Jr. as Miranda's skeptical doctor ably smarms his way in and out of scenes in which he says little but raises much doubt about his true motivations--just one of several intriguing concepts abandoned in the face of a progressively trite storyline and escalating hoo-haw. Where it all just goes wrong--so, so wrong--is in Cruz's greasy, raving crackbird, who shrieks lines like, ''He opened me like a flower of paaaain!'' while trying to convince Miranda the Devil rapes her nightly in her cell.


Auteur Mathieu Kassovitz admirably sets the stage for a spooky thriller in the massive, turn-of-the-century St. Vincent-de-Paul Prison, an abandoned maximum-security facility near Montreal that serves as his women's prison. The setting is the only part of the film that holds any interest--it almost develops a life of its own, which is more than can be said of the characters. Though Kassovitz resorts to Horror 101 (flickering lights, suddenly appearing figures, things that go bump in the night), these elements inspire dread and trigger a jolt regardless. So if the setting is suitably hair-raising, the first few scenes effectively suck you in and the acting is passable, what's the problem? Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez's script, that's what. After an auspicious start, the film drowns in nonsense and plot holes the size of which rival Michael Jackson's legal troubles until finally sinking like a stone with a truly pedestrian and ridiculous finale that unravels any interesting question raised in the two hours prior, followed by a real howler of a denouement. ''I don't believe in ghosts but they believe in me,'' says Miranda. Sorry, we don't believe a bit of Gothika.

Bottom Line

This plane-crossing load of malarkey is not altogether awful until two-thirds in, the exact point when the music stops, you see the abysmal finale coming at you like a brick-loaded train, and you wish you'd rented The Ring instead.