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Fragile

"Sometimes it's better not to ask," a character solemnly replies when questioned about what happens at the end of "Fragile." Likewise, it's perhaps better not to ask how this badly written, poorly acted, and drearily predictable shocker secured an out-of-competition slot at Venice.

With:
With: Calista Flockhart, Richard Roxburgh, Elena Anaya, Gemma Jones, Yasmin Murphy, Colin McFarlane, Susie Trayling, Daniel Ortiz. (English dialogue)

“Sometimes it’s better not to ask,” a character solemnly replies when questioned about what happens at the end of “Fragile.” Likewise, it’s perhaps better not to ask how this badly written, poorly acted, and drearily predictable shocker secured an out-of-competition slot at Venice. Spanish-produced pic, starring Calista Flockhart as a nurse in a haunted kids’ hospital in Blighty, reps the second English-language outing for helmer Jaume Balaguero after similarly generic chiller “Darkness.” Sporting bellicose sound design, “Fragile” delivers just enough off-the-shelf scares to satisfy horror fans, and perhaps match or break the roughly $25 million worldwide cume of “Darkness.”

Set on the U.K.’s Isle of Wight, story opens in aging hospital for children, Mercy Falls, whose imminent closure is delayed by the lack of beds at neighboring hospitals due to a recent train crash. When graveyard-shift nurse Susan (Susie Trayling) gets freaked out by one too many bumps in the night and quits, wan American Amy (Flockhart) is hired as her replacement.

Pill-popping Amy is haunted by memories of a patient’s death. Soon, she’s haunted by a more literal ghost who the sick kids on the ward call Charlotte, or “the mechanical girl” (due to her medical-brace attire), and who lives on the hospital’s unoccupied second floor.

Amy befriends plucky cystic fibrosis-sufferer Maggie (Yasmin Murphy), who stands out from the indistinguishable rabble of rugrat patients with hardly any lines.

It eventually transpires that only those about to die can see Charlotte, which spells trouble for both Amy and Maggie. Apparently, Charlotte doesn’t want the kids to leave, and supernaturally breaks bones and worse to keep them there.

Boilerplate midsection sees Amy trying to convince her colleagues — nightshift doc Robert (Richard Roxburgh), dayshift nurse Helen (Elena Anaya), factotum Roy (Colin McFarlane), and hospital administrator Mrs. Folder (Gemma Jones) — that something’s amiss. Scaremongering devices include kids’ letter blocks that spell by themselves.

Apart from using the cinematic equivalent of shouting “boo!” a lot, helmer Balaguero, who co-wrote the script with Jordi Galceran, demonstrates a lack of imagination about how to generate fear. For genre fans, scares will be nothing new, while there’s nothing here to match the psychological depth or physical scares of previous Filmax chiller “The Machinist.”

Flockhart’s perf is monotonous and shrill. More impact is made by supporting players, such as sexy Spaniard Anaya and the forceful young Murphy.

Craft contributions are solid, although lenser Xavi Gimenez, whose desaturated work on “The Machinist” was just right, takes his under-lighting aesthetic to irritating extremes here, making it almost impossible to make out vital clues in one murky scene.

Fragile

Spain

Production: A Filmax Entertainment presentation of a Castelao Prods., Just Films production, in association with Future Films. (International sales: Filmax, Madrid.) Produced by Julio Fernandez, Joan Ginard. Executive producers, Julio Fernandez, Carlos Fernandez. Co-producer, Albert Martinez Martin. Co-executive producers, Antonia Nava, Stephen Margolis. Directed by Jaume Balaguero. Screenplay, Balaguero, Jordi Galceran.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Xavi Gimenez; editor, Jaume Marti; music, Roque Bands; production designer, Alain Bainee; costume designer, Patricia Monne; sound (Dolby Digital), Dani Fontrodona. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (non- competing), Sept. 1, 2005. Running time: 101 MIN.

With: With: Calista Flockhart, Richard Roxburgh, Elena Anaya, Gemma Jones, Yasmin Murphy, Colin McFarlane, Susie Trayling, Daniel Ortiz. (English dialogue)

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