Dir: Jaume Balaguero.Sp-UK. 2005. 98mins.
Fragile's the word.Spanish horror specialist Jaume Balaguero fails to impress with his follow-upto the psycho-thriller Darkness, which grossed over $22m at the US boxoffice, despite downbeat reviews. A stale spooky-hospital yarn, Fragilesuffers from poor suspense management and the gelid obnoxiousness of thecentral nurse character, played by US loan Calista Flockhart.
There's nothing worse than ahorror film that tips over, unintentionally, into absurdity: and while theVenice press corps is not the world's most sympathetic audience, the fact thatmany were hooting with laughter towards the end of the out-of-competitionpreview screening does not augur well for the film's commercial prospects.
Despite the presence ofFlockhart, US audiences are unlikely to respond warmly to a film that feelsdated when compared to recent Japanese horror imports, and while Fragileis guaranteed a small to middling genre rollout in selected territories, it istoo brittle to last beyond the first couple of weekends.
To some the Isle of Wight -part of England's south coast - may seem a placid and uneventful offshoreretirement raft, but in Fragile it becomes a place of broodingsupernatural dread. It also suddenly develops a standard rail network largeenough to furnish the train crash that opens the film (maybe it was the attemptto run the trains on the island's single electrified line that caused thecarnage).
The bad vibes centre onMercy Falls Children's Hospital, a gloomy Gothic pile that is slated forimminent closure, with a second floor that has been closed since 1959 and isdesperately in need of a good clean.
But the train crash givesMercy Falls a stay of leave: the last few juvenile patients have to stay wherethey are, as all beds in the island's other hospitals are taken. Cue the entryof Ms Flockhart as Amy, a night nurse drafted in to replace a colleaguestressed out by the unnameable menace (actually, it gets named pretty quickly)that appears to live on the second floor.
The dramatis personaecontain the usual mix of stern rationalists (the hospital boss, played by GemmaJones) and colleagues who, though sympathetic, prefer to ignore thesupernatural warning signs (Richard Roxburgh's multi-tasking doctor, or thefellow nurse played by increasingly exportable Spanish actress Elena Anaya). Soit's left to Amy to venture up to the second floor - alone, of course, andwithout a torch - to get to the bottom of the mystery.
The Ally McBeal starnever looks quite at home in this role: she seems in a bad temper throughout,which may be relevant to a character who has the contractual Ghost In Her Past,but does nothing to endear her to the audience.
But with its atmosphericcamerawork and lighting, and its efficient orchestral soundtrack, Fragilecould overcome this hurdle if it were scary enough. Unfortunately, it isn't: ifthe audience jumps, it's more because the Dolby speakers have just screeched intheir ears than because anything particularly terrifying has taken placeonscreen.
And it was a mistake to letus actually see the ghostly denizen of the second floor, who looks like MarilynManson in calipers. Horror films with limited budgets are best off leaving theirmonsters to the imagination.
Julio Fernandez/Joan Ginard Productions