All the natural resources ghost films mine their goods from have been plundered for years now. Every now and then a film like Shutter can tap into a familiar vein and uncover treasure in the process, but the law of averages says that most ghosties ride predictability to a cutout ending.
Jaume Balagueró’s Fragile begins with an opening act that would convince anyone with a short attention span that they’ve already seen the film countless times. New woman to town (played by dropped-off-the-radar Calista Flockhart) snaps up the recently vacated job of night nurse in the pediatric ward of a decaying hospital. The children, all appropriately freaked out, claim to see a ‘mechanical girl’ at night. And it is this ‘mechanical girl’ who is presumably the push behind the invisible shove that violently breaks a boys bones in the opening minutes.
The rest of the opening third is filled with flickering lights, creaking walls, shadowy hallways and good ‘ole fashion off-limits floors that haven’t been used and years. But despite these identifiable standards in the plot department, Balagueró manages to give the film enough style and enough (eventual) violence to deservingly rise above the so-so fare it would otherwise be associated with.
One of Fragile’s major, winning elements is the ghost itself. Not the design of the ethereal thing, though that itself is more than a tad creepy, but the ghost’s origins and motives. Too often the spirit(s) in question are long haired women savaged by the brooding men in their lives, so it is quite a relief to see a return of form for ghosts of people who were, fundamentally, bat-shit insane.
On more than one occasion Flockhart bellows out intensity, but for the most part her scripted material is rather narrow. She’s sad, she’s lonely, she is so virtuous when it comes to the kids. All great qualities, but all rather boring on screen. The kids themselves, the other people in the hospital (including the resident maintenance man whose character holds more than a racially coincidental connection with Scatman Crothers in the Shining) and the exceptional ghost bring the film’s cast to an admirable level of enjoyment.
The climactic ending is, judging from a quick recall of recent ghost jumpers like The Ring(s), the Grudge(s), and Skeleton Key, comparatively original and surprisingly intense in that delightful, frightful, entertaining way. It is a sequence that exceeds all expectations held for the film and the one deciding vote that lands Fragile the informal title of ‘Best Western Ghost Film of the ’00s’. Yes, the aforementioned competition has been pretty weak, so the bar isn’t set all that high, but all factors considered, Fragile is still a more than decent horror film.
It’s a shame the flick hasn’t received a US release of any capacity. Admittedly it wouldn’t tear down the box office, but I’ve no doubt that minimal marketing and good word of mouth would keep sales profitable enough to warrant distribution.
But what do I know, I despise junk like See No Evil that not only pollutes retail shelves, but sees the silver screen prior to its 10 week day-and-date release. Clearly my sense of quality control cowers under the shadow cast by your average studio exec’s marketing brilliance.