AUGUST 11, 2010
With Fragile (Spain: Frágiles), I know the Fangoria Frightfest won’t be a total loss, after my expectations sunk like stones with Road Kill. It follows the basic pattern of modern haunting movies involving children, but director Jaume Balagueró imbues the film with enough atmosphere and even a few legit A+ scares (skittish surround sound owners should consider turning off their rear speakers) for it to work despite the fact that I’ve seen about a dozen of these things over the past couple years.
Having a striking villain doesn’t hurt either. Ours is the ghost who wants the children to stay (the hospital is being closed down, the kids transferred elsewhere), which is unique on its own, but she also suffers from Mr. Glass Disease (the true medical name for osteogenesis imperfecta since 2000!), so she’s got all these metal poles and braces over her body. Seeing this thing lumber toward our heroes truly creeped me out more than once, and the fact that it was a non-Hollywood production (despite Calista Flockhart’s presence in the lead role) meant I could actually get concerned for the survival of main characters for a change.
Of course, part of my fear was based on the fact that I thought this was an R rated film, given the string of F-bombs that Flockhart delivers in a key scene about her past, which occurred at the halfway mark, before the bulk of the scary stuff had happened. I actually wrote down in my notes “PTA”, and for once I remembered what it meant a while later (not Parent Teacher Association or Paul Thomas Anderson): Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In that film, Steve Martin says “fuck” in some form or other about a dozen times in a single scene, single-handedly giving the film its R rating (apart from the car rental lady’s reply, I don’t think it’s uttered again in the film). And since I’ve seen so many of these things, all PG-13, I was taken aback by it, and wondered if anything else in the film would be “R” worthy.
But then I looked at the DVD box, and to my surprise saw a PG-13 rating! Now, I know you can get away with a couple of F bombs in a PG-13, but never more than three, in my experience. However, Fragile has well over a dozen (a later exchange has three itself: Flockhart: “Fuck!” Richard Roxburgh: “I can’t get a fucking signal!” Flockhart: “FUCK!!!”), which I would think would be far too many for the MPAA to let it slide. Hilariously, the rating is for the film’s “intense sequences of violence/terror, and thematic materials” – nothing about the language at all! Obviously I’m not exactly the poster child for clean language, but even I’d be a bit upset if I rented a PG-13 movie for my kids and heard borderline Mamet-ian profanity. Though not as upset as I’d be to discover I had kids all of a sudden.
Another thing I dug about the movie was its natural lighting. Several scenes play with a character (including Flockhart) only half lit – there are no magic light sources giving our beautiful lead a perfectly exposed face when she’s supposed to be in a dark room. But it’s not Peter Hyams level “What the hell am I looking at here?” dark, either - Balagueró and DP Xavi Giménez found a perfect center between true natural dark (Hyams) and movie-ready dark (which is usually bright enough to see the actors perfectly), if that makes sense. Well played.
The only drawback, despite some inherent familiarity (looking through old records, our heroine forming a strong bond with a kid she doesn’t know, etc), is that we occasionally get big globs of exposition, sometimes courtesy of characters we know nothing about. At one point Flockhart goes to visit two old ladies, whom she had no scenes with prior to the best of my knowledge, and they explain a good chunk of the back-story for her. As tired as I am of record-searching scenes, I would have rather that than two characters without any real bearing on the story (they’re not even in the hospital where the rest of it takes place). This stuff should have been given to the kindly orderly, or maybe the cute day nurse (Elena Anaya) who sometimes seems like she’s hiding something anyway. Or they should have worked the old ladies into it more.
Perhaps they were, however, since the region 2 DVD has a 2nd disc’s worth of extras, including deleted scenes. Fangoria’s DVD, however, just gives us a generic EPK style making of (worth watching to see Flockhart give her interview whilst seemingly hungover, though) and the trailer. The only extra of note is a look at the visual effects, which were quite well done (was surprised to see how much of the climactic “hallway crumble” was comprised of CG elements). I don’t get why if all of these elements exist that they wouldn’t just put them on the disc (especially deleted scenes), because the movie isn’t terribly long, and compression has come a long way even since the movie was originally finished... in 2005.
And that brings me to my final thoughts for this entry – why can’t Balagueró catch a break over here? His 1999 film The Nameless was dumped to DVD in 2005, his followup Darkness (2002) sat on Dimension shelves before they finally released an edited version on Christmas Day in 2004 (hardly the best timing), and we all know what [Rec] had to go through before it finally got a proper Region 1 release. And both this and his followup (To Let, from 2006) were released here years later, lumped in with several other films on “series” DVDs*. The guy is a great filmmaker, and he has a real knack for taking standard scenarios and making them unique without going too out there – all of them have had above average commercial appeal compared to other imports. MGM was apparently set to release the film in 2006, but I’m not sure what happened there. Maybe they got distracted with buying Poughkeepsie Tapes (and never releasing that either). But like I said in the Road Kill review, I’m glad Fangoria is giving these movies a chance for an audience, and in this case, I think it deserves one (they must agree; unlike Road Kill the film is presented at its correct aspect ratio).
What say you?
*This warning pops up at the top of the disc, but I have to wonder WHERE it could be unavailable - it was released in its native Spain in 2005, and has been steadily rolled out throughout the world ever since. The US seems to be one of the last major countries for it to hit.