Horror with Halle

I seem to have blundered into a week of watching Halle Berry films with a horror twist.

Gothika (2003)

And in this movie Halle plays psychiatrist Miranda Grey who wakes up one morning to find herself an inmate in the asylum where she previously worked, and the prime suspect in the axe murder of her husband. The last thing Miranda can remember is driving home from the hospital and nearly running down a young girl standing in the middle of the road in the rain, the girl later flying afire when Miranda took her hand. As the film progresses, with Halle having flashbacks and messages appearing on the skin of her arm, it becomes obvious that something supernatural is taking place, with the circumstances surrounding her husband’s murder revealed as well as the danger that remains. Halle’s performance is okay, with solid support from Penelope Cruz as a fellow inmate and Robert Downey Jnr as Halle’s doctor, none of which helps the film rise above the absurdities of the plot. Especially irritating was the apparent ease with which people could get in and out of the mental hospital, with Halle escaping despite a drug regimen, guards and locked doors (though to be fair she has supernatural help), and a rapist paying house calls, which turns out to be a convenient plot coupon and nothing more than that. I have no idea why they called it Gothika, and the supernatural elements were pretty much window dressing in a film that seemed to be pitching for psychological thriller status but fell short of its aspirations. And that last comment touches on my biggest beef, that there was a good story hidden away here behind all the spooky stuff, a woman having to deal with a terrible discovery about the identity of her husband, and the equally terrible response she makes to that. It could have been a much grimmer, more realistic, and emotionally satisfying film, but they threw all that away for the sake of playing with the usual horror tropes, so Halle gets given the get out of asylum free, a ghost made me do it card.

Dark Tide (2012)

Halle plays marine biologist Kate Mathieson, who makes a living with her boat running sea trips for the tourists in South Africa. Kate’s reputation as ‘the shark whisperer’, someone willing to swim with sharks outside of the cage, has taken a knock after the death of a friend in a shark attack, and now she only conducts seal tours. However, faced with mounting debts she is persuaded by an ex-lover to take a millionaire and the son he is attempting to bond with on a trip that will involve swimming with the sharks outside of the cage. Naturally it all ends in disaster. The DVD cover, with its picture of Halle in a red bikini and the tag line ‘The ocean has a new set of jaws’ is something of a misnomer as (a) she doesn’t wear that bikini in the film and (b) we just get generic sharks rather than an iconic monster akin to Spielberg’s great white. Overall, I have mixed feelings. There’s some great photography, with beautiful scenery as part of what’s on offer, and the scenes at sea and underwater are done well, with mounting tension and bleakness at the end as these pesky humans learn that you don’t treat the elements and Mother Nature so cavalierly. On the other hand there is a fair bit of padding, such as the protracted night time scene with the poachers on Seal Island. Then there are the characters. I was quite taken with the cocky millionaire who is determined to get his own way when he’s footing the bill, a man with a secret of his own, and his estranged son, who has an interest in photography and doesn’t want to conform to the stereotype his father wants him to be. Both of these characters are credible and engaging, and they grow during the course of the film. I wasn’t so keen on Olivier Martinez’s take on pushy ex-boyfriend Jeff, who wants to control Kate for her own good (naturally), and I think in her shoes I’d have let him stay dumped, as the guy came across as much too up himself. And Kate didn’t really come up to scratch for me either. Yes, she’s a wonderful person who knows all there is to know about sharks, and everybody loves her. But there’s no getting round the fact that her nagging a friend to come in the water resulted in his death, and by allowing herself to be goaded by the millionaire Kate directly brings about the disaster that’s waiting at the end of this film, so she’s also a bit of an idiot in my book and not deserving of viewer sympathy. I have no problems with unsympathetic characters per se, it’s just that here they so obviously want us to feel for the woman and her actions don’t justify that. It was an okay film I guess, but I don’t think I’ll watch it again, as too much about it just irritated me.

The Call (2013)

Now this was a pleasant surprise. Halle plays veteran 911 operator Jordan Turner, who’s taken off the front line after a call goes disastrously wrong and she has to listen to a young woman being murdered, something for which she blames herself. And then she jumps back in when another young woman is abducted and calls from the boot of the car in which she is being held prisoner. Jordan realises that the abductor is the same killer as before, and this time she is determined to save the victim, whatever the cost. The set-up, with Halle having to deal with emotional trauma, is done convincingly and well. The same can be said about the tense game of cat and mouse with the killer that ensues once the abduction takes place, Halle using all her skill and experience to keep the abductee (an excellent Abigail Breslin) calm, and come up with positive steps she can take, such as kicking out the car’s tail light and signalling for help. The film sucks us into the plight of this young woman and makes us care about what is going to happen to her. Where it got a little silly was at the end when Halle picks up on a clue that leads her to the killer, though if we overlook this one stretch then what follows racks up the tension even more, as Halle confronts her nemesis in his lair, with echoes of Silence of the Lambs to be found in the action. The rest of the cast do excellent work, with particular kudos to Michael Eklund as an especially unnerving sociopath, one whose psychology is meticulously worked out, and Breslin as abductee Casey, who initially won’t even use the word “Bitch” when in the company of a friend, but by end of play is motherfucking with the best of them and willing to kill to save her own life (the subtext seems to be that you need to toughen up and do whatever it takes to survive in a horror film). Oh, there are some obvious emotional tricks being played here (with Breslin the thing is that she changes, whereas if the killer had taken her smoking, swearing, sexually active friend viewers would probably not have related as well – which probably says more about viewer mentality than it does about the victim), but the payback is good enough that I don’t really mind being played. It was a great little movie, one that kept me on the edge of my seat.

One thing that occurs to me here, I can’t recall seeing any films in which Halle Berry plays a nasty person, she’s always nice, sometimes insufferably so, as with Dark Tide. Anyone think of one?

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