What is it with famous actresses taking leading roles in ghostly thrillers as vulnerable women? Nicole Kidman in The Others, Halle Berry in Gothika and Julianne Moore in The Forgotten spring immediately to mind and now we have Ally McBeal herself, Calista Flockhart, in Fragile. She plays Amy, the new night nurse at a remote and rundown children’s hospital replacing one who mysteriously left. In her first job since the death of a child in her care, she could do with an easy time away from any stress. Sadly, that is not to be. The young patients have been victimised by bizarre attacks during their sleep, having their bones broken whilst they lay in their beds. Alone with all but the oblivious night doctor during her shifts, Amy befriends little girl Maggie (Murphy) who talks of a “mechanical girl” living on the abandoned second floor above. She must be strong to solve the mystery of the mechanical girl and save the children’s lives, battling against flickering lights, staff who care little about her concerns and a past she would rather forget. It’s a spooky effort that tries to save its revelations by focusing on Amy’s tip-toeing towards the truth using her amateur sleuth tactics.
These films always have an eerie setting prime for playing up a sense of impending danger, and much of the source of intrigue is laid out in Amy’s arrival at the hospital. She is told they are on the verge of closing down the old building, the second floor has been sealed for 40 years and that Maggie can be a bit of a handful making up stories. No surprises, then, that crumbling brickwork, unreliable electricity, strange sounds from the floor above and the sense a child knows more than any of the adults feature very quickly. Of course, Amy has to find this all out for herself so she speaks to all the staff who laugh over any concerns from her first couple of nights featuring scared children, broken glasses and apparitions. Doctor Robert (Roxburgh) and the friendly hospital worker Roy (McFarlane) are all to happy to offer reassurances that its just an old building playing tricks. By the time a lift has taken on a life of its own, a man has been thrown out a window to his death and the old night nurse turns up dead it is clear Amy needs to find someone who can really answer her questions.
Fragile walks a well-trodden cinematic path of only offering slight progression in each scene to save the unveiling of the enemy as its finale, much like the recent iconic Japanese horrors The Ring and Dark Water. It won’t set your spine tingling as much as those, however it avoids the dangers of over-indulging in the endless death sequences that ruined many of Hollywood’s takes on the genre. Writer/director Balaguero (The Nameless, Darkness) places emphasis on keeping his story very specific and uses drained colours along with a creepy soundtrack to provide a tense atmosphere even though hospital settings have long been overused as a setting for thrillers throughout cinematic history. Flockhart plays the tortured, strung out woman very well as the stress builds to an obligatory last gasp action finale, taking centre stage among a rather wooden supporting cast. Fragile is actually quite a solid supernatural suspense flick without the daftness that plagued similar women-in-danger movies such as The Forgotten or Gothika, but falls short of really gripping due to its many tricks seen elsewhere before.
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