(a.k.a. FRAGILES; FRAGILE: A GHOST STORY)
We learn in the opening moments that Mercy Falls children's hospital, situated on the Isle of White, is on the verge of closing down.
However, news of a train crash resulting in dozens seriously injured means that Mercy Falls must remain open for a short while longer, as the nearest hospital can no longer accommodate the eight invalid children currently residing there.
Following a disturbing pre-credits sequence in which young patient Simon (Lloyd F Booth Shankley) breaks his leg in mysterious circumstances, spooked-out night duty nurse Susan (Susie Trayling, FOGBOUND) resigns from her post at Mercy Falls.
Enter Amy (Calista Flockhart, ALLY MCBEAL) as her replacement, who sails into the island to be promptly shown around the decrepit hospital by amiable young nurse Helen (Elena Anaya, VAN HELSING). During their tour, Amy learns that the staff have been reduced to a bare minimum for these closing stages, the telephone lines have already been disconnected and there's a second floor which has never been used since some tragedy occurred up there in 1959 ...
If that's not enough to hint to Amy that something wicked may be stirring in Mercy Falls, she's then introduced to the remaining eight kids - including the agonised Simon and solemn, enigmatic Maggie (Yasmin Murphy). Maggie tells Amy that she has met a girl called Charlotte who no one else can see, but she lives "upstairs" and Maggie is terrified of angering her.
Later that night, Amy is left to her shift with only the kids and, elsewhere in the building, metalhead porter Matt (Daniel Ortiz, BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR) for company. But Matt proves to be no great comfort when Amy hears sinister noises coming from the second floor, and runs for his help ... only to be scoffed at.
The following day, Amy has a spooky encounter while trapped in the hospital's elevator with Simon. Later, she tries to share her misgivings with doctor Robert (Richard Roxburgh, STEALTH), but he seems cold and cynical towards her.
In fact, there's only disturbed Maggie who openly agrees that the hospital may well be haunted by someone or something on the second floor - everyone else appears way too cagey for Amy's liking.
Amy eventually does the sensible thing and decides to pay her predecessor a visit - albeit one day too late: Susan died in mysterious circumstances a day earlier.
It seems only one course of investigation for the inquisitive Amy remains: to venture up to the second floor, and attempt to learn the truth behind "Charlotte"'s identity ...
FRAGILE is a well-made ghost story that benefits from the rarely-used location of the Isle of Wight (ideal with it's coastal scenery and country village settings) and the unexpectedly canny casting of Flockhart.
It builds slowly, allowing for a genuinely creepy atmosphere to lend its hand to the first half. The hospital as a location, while reeking of cliché, is used to superb effect in these restrained earlier scenes.
Flockhart, as mentioned above, soon makes you forget about her twattish TV alter-ego and convinces as a bewildered, soon-to-become-terrified stranger in a strange land. Roxburgh heads the support cast with a fine line in subtle ambiguity that never gives away whether he should be trusted or not. And the child actors are uniformly excellent, helping the viewer to become quietly absorbed in director Jaume Balaguero's (THE NAMELESS) slowburning spooker.
It's only when the hauntings become more graphically realised (cracking walls; apparitions appearing; a silly, gratuitous death scene) that the film loses its keenly built sense of dread and forsakes its subtler mood in favour of trendy J-Horror-type thrills. Which is a shame - the build-up was so much better than the pay-off.
Still, this is above-average stuff that, while understandably not released in theatres, is definitely worth tracking down on DVD.
This UK release offers the uncut film in an excellent 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. As much of the film is naturally dark, it's good to report that the video quality is well-balanced and sharp, with minimal grain.
The English audio track is an impressive, clear and consistent affair too. Optional English subtitles are also available.
There's no scene-selection menu on the disc, but the film can be accessed using your remote via 16 chapters.
The only extra on offer here is a fairly meagre Making Of. The main players are all on hand, on location, to talk about the film - but at only 7 minutes in length, it's debatable what you're expected to glean from this.
The only other "extras" are forced trailers at the beginning of the disc, for SEE NO EVIL, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR and 11:14.
Fans of the film may be interested in the 2-disc Spanish SE, although some of the extras (the director's commentary, for example) are inevitably Spanish language only.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Lions Gate|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|