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STUDIO: Phase 4 Films
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
• Behind the scenes
• Making of Visual Effects
David E. Kelley’s Ally McBeal vs. The Undead.
Starring Calista Flockhart, Richard Roxburgh, Elena Anaya, Gemma Jones, Yasmin Murphy, Colin McFarlane, Susie Trayling, Daniel Ortiz
Written by Jaume Balaguero and Jordi Galceran
Directed by Jaume Balaguero
An old children’s hospital in England is getting shut down when unexplainable things start happening to the sick kids. After their main night nurse quits abruptly, they bring in Amy Nicholls (Flockhart), who carries with her some serious baggage. Emotional, that is. She then forms a bond with a disturbed girl, Maggie (Murphy), with cystic fibrosis who claims to see the ghost of a girl who died in the upstairs floor that has been abandoned for years. Is she seeing things? Or does something – or someone – not want these kids to leave?
Walk it off, buddy. Walk it off.
If I had been able to actually see what was happening on screen in most of the second act, I could’ve given Fragile a higher grade. Based on the shadows I could make out and the sound effects and dialogue, I feel like maybe I should shift my expectations to having watched a blind movie — kinda like the opposite of a silent movie, in which the film has no picture. Also known as a radio play minus the narration.
Seriously, this movie is dark. I’m talking like being in your parents’ basement with the lights out as a kid dark. It’s like how Stevie Wonder sees movies dark. I’d like to blame the cinematographer, but, I mean Nestor Almendros was practically blind when he shot Days of Heaven and that’s a masterpiece! (Granted, that was Almendros, and this is no Malick.) I have a feeling that it was just a terrible transfer to DVD, which must be brutal for the filmmakers to have their work impossible to see, but just as bad for us viewers when the climax of the film happens and you literally have no idea what’s going on. Not because the editing is so bad like in normal bad movies, but because it’s seriously just a black screen.
(I tried it on my laptop later to just make sure it wasn’t my TV and it was marginally brighter. Still — if it’s not going to show up well on a Panasonic HDTV, you’ve got problems.)
Mullet + Helena Bonham Carter = Tim Burton’s ideal woman.
So, Ryan, aside from the inability to see large swaths of the movie, what’d you think?
So glad you asked! It’s actually not a bad movie. The movie cold opens in a dank, old children’s hospital in England where they evidently like to save money on the electric bill because — as you guessed it — this place is dark. A little girl lies in the dark in her bed, the kind of big room full of beds that you’d imagine in an orphanage, staring at a glass on her end table which is shaking by some unseen force about to crash to the ground. Just then, a little boy in the adjacent bed wakes up in extreme pain in his leg. The doctors take x-rays and find that somehow he’s broken his leg in his sleep — and once more while just lying on the examination table.
The doctors can’t explain it. But the kids can: it’s the Mechanical Girl, they say. A malicious ghost that lives upstairs on the second floor, which has inexplicably been closed off for decades. You see, there was this horrible tragedy back in the fifties (and I’m sure this will have NOTHING to do with what happens later, right?) that happened on the second floor and instead of cleaning it up and actually, you know, salvaging the entire floor of hospital space, they just removed the button for “Level 2″ on the elevator and told everyone to ignore it. Makes sense. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
Naturally, the hospital staff doesn’t believe in ghosts and just blames it on kids being kids. That is, until the evening nurse mysteriously quits and Ally McBeal herself joins the ranks. She’s had a tragedy of her own that she carries with her and hasn’t quite let go of — I wonder if the following events will finally redeem her? And immediately, she strikes up a relationship with the little girl, Maggie, who seems to have the most contact with the Mechanical Girl. It doesn’t take long before McBeal is drinking the apparition kool-aid.
Typical day at the Ford residence: “Hey, babe! Which earring you do you like better? The big emerald-encrusted diamond, or the hoop made out of pure ivory? Babe?”
Calista Flockhart isn’t great, but she’s servicable in the role of the damaged, caring nurse who comes into quite the hairy situation. I never seen her before when she was in Ally McBeal, and since I really just know her as Mrs. Harrison Ford, I didn’t know what to expect from her as far as acting chops go. Other than the “acting scene” where she flips out on the main doctor and literally pulls her hair out, she doesn’t have much heavy lifting to do here other than be scared at times and strong at other times, which she manages to pull off just fine.
In terms of the rest of the cast, they all felt real enough to make the movie believable. Even if the role of the other nurse (you’ll recognize her as the amalgam of Julia Ormond and Helena Bonham Carter, but with a mullet) was pretty much a waste of space. It wasn’t her fault – she just had nothing to do whatsoever other than be completely useless in all situations where she might have provided value.
Nothing performance-related struck me as truly eye-rolling; although, I can’t say the same for the script. Now it’s clear that regardless of what the ghost wants, her powers are breaking stuff — notably the little kid’s leg (twice) in the opening scene, the nose and leg of another poor individual who also gets flung out a window to his death, and even the hospital itself. The big script issue, though, is that later on as the suspense builds and the ghost gets more and more active, she doesn’t utilize her skills to help herself. For example, at one point, when Ally McBeal runs, carrying Maggie, away from the ghost (who appears in admittedly creepy, psuedo-puppet form), you’d think, “Hey, if I’m the ghost, I’d just snap Ally’s legs and voila! End of chase!” But, nope! Instead, the ghost tears away the floor in front of Flockhart, which she just jumps over to escape. (From what I could see through the darkness, anyway.) The Mechanical Girl merely uses her powers in ways that service the plot, rather than servicing logic.
Calista couldn’t believe Helen had never even heard of Ally McBeal. Helen couldn’t believe she had actually congratulated Calista for her Academy Award for Cold Mountain.
Plus the finale itself made no sense. Usually with these types of movie you have established rules that describe how to off the ghost. In The Ring, you have to make a copy of the tape and give it to someone else. In Stir of Echoes, you have to unearth her dead body from your basement. In Fragile? Apparently you just run out of the hospital…? So weak considering just moments before they realized that they couldn’t just run out of the hospital. Whatever. Who needs logic in a haunted hospital, right?
There were a few creepy moments, and the overall tone of the film kept me intrigued, even if it started off like a Halloween episode of House. The setting has a bit of a poor man’s Shutter Island vibe going on, which I found to be a good thing. And even though it’s another movie about a kid seeing ghosts, it didn’t feel at all Shyamalan-esque whatsoever, which I also found to be a good thing. There weren’t too many random, cheap jump scares either, even though there easily could’ve been. So, I guess I’m saying that it succeeded due to its lack of potential downfalls. I would’ve liked more character development from Flockhart and the relationship between her and Maggie. Basically, we’re supposed to believe that they’ve formed some special, rare bond after one very brief encounter and it could’ve easily been given more screen time instead of the lame quasi-relationship between Flockhart and the main doctor that gets hinted at.
Do I really need to spell it out for you? Don’t. Touch. My. Ass.
And one random aspect of the film I found interesting was the fact that it was rated PG-13 despite there being numerous instances of “fuck” thrown around. I thought that was a pretty steadfast rule, but somehow they got away with it here. Perhaps because they kept the gore to a bare minimum the MPAA let it go? Either way, odd.
All told, not a terrible flick, but a better transfer would have to be released for me to give a real recommendation.
I guess I do.
As you can see from above, the transfer is garbage. It looks like they ran the negative through mud and then filmed that projection with a Super-8 and then put it on a DVD. There are some extras that are pretty standard — a making of where the filmmakers talk about how they turned this kernel of an idea from a photo into a full-on movie, also they talk about how they made the visual effects (which were pretty good, actually). The audio was good, but that might have been only my interpretation because I couldn’t see anything and it’s all I had to go on.
4 out of 10 (5.5 if you could actually see it)
And they wonder why more people don’t volunteer to donate their blood.