It holds your patients

Opening tomorrow in area theaters
Three reels out of four

The term "edge-of-your-seat thriller" exists for a reason. When you are lucky enough to see a movie that fits the aforementioned description, that is exactly where it puts you.

It is usually an endearing term. Movies are funny that way. We seem to have a thousand descriptions for how movies affect us in a positive way but only a few for those that affect us in a negative way.

Fortunately, for about 90 percent of its running time, Gothika is an excellent example of the former. Even when it runs down and becomes just plain silly in the last 10 minutes or so, it never even comes close to the latter.

Oscar winner Halle Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a respected psychiatrist at a mental hospital for the criminally insane in New England. She has it all: brains, beauty and the heart of the hospital’s administrator (Charles S. Dutton), to whom she’s married. Then she loses everything.

One morning Grey wakes up with a very bad feeling. She’s dressed in hospital blues and is soon informed she’s there for a reason. A few days before, she allegedly and quite brutally murdered her husband with an ax.

Her mortified ex-colleagues (Robert Downey Jr. plays one of them) desperately want to believe her. That’s pretty hard to do when she starts exhibiting strange behavior like carving "Not Alone" on her wrists, which, by the way, was the phrase her husband’s murderer painted on the wall.

To director Mathieu Kassovitz’s credit, Gothika is executed with maximum style and skill. He uses many horror-movie devices to good measure throughout. Things pop out of nowhere when you least expect them. And when you do expect surprise, nothing happens. The cinematography itself is appropriately bleak, yet Gothika also possesses a music-video feel for much of the movie.

Events happen at a breakneck pace through most of the film, very much contributing to the roller-coaster feel of the movie. In fact, Gothika‘s only serious flaw is that its denouement requires a major suspension of disbelief. For me to reveal anything more would certainly spoil the movie for you.

As for Berry, she once again proves that she is a star for a very good reason. She would have made an excellent Hitchcock heroine: beautiful, smart, resourceful and vulnerable but with a hidden strength.

Gothika is a rare film indeed. It is a thriller that entertains without insulting the intelligence. Except for about the last 10 minutes.

Recommended rental

X2: X-Men United
Available Tuesday

I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a movie released this year that exhibits a more touching case for tolerance than X2: X-Men United. The fact that it’s a comic-book movie only reinforces the magnitude of director Bryan Singer’s accomplishment. Of course, as comic-book movies go, it also has the requisite amount of thrills and special effects. This time around, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) face a grave challenge. A mutant has attacked the President in the Oval Office, bringing anti-mutant feelings in the country to an all-time high. The X-Men form an unlikely alliance with Magneto (Ian McKellen) — who has escaped from his plastic prison — to stop the culprit.