by Brody Rossiter
Best known for her exploits throughout the late 1990’s as the daydreaming lawyer, Ally McBeal, Calista Flockhart, quickly became a cultural icon thanks to the show’s sassy scriptwriting, idiosyncratic visuals and challenging social scenarios, such as cramming a group of sexually charged lawyers into a unisex bathroom. However, beyond the confines of that rowdy Boston law firm, Flockhart’s filmography feels somewhat what sparse, especially when it comes to cinematic outings. Therefore it may come as something of a surprise that she fronts an incredibly atmospheric and distinctively unnerving horror film that any leading lady would be proud to anxiously navigate.
Set upon a noticeably grim and grey vision of the Isle of Wight, Fragile largely takes place within the moody interior of an ageing children’s hospital that is imminently due to be closed. However, due to a nearby train derailment, the resident children’s new accommodation is quickly filled with victims of the disaster and they must remain inside the dilapidated Victorian building for just a little longer.
Cinema has taught us that kids come in two narrative varieties: annoying and creepy – this bunch of miniature gowned invalids fall into the latter category. After replacing a night nurse who has been scared off by a series of midnight mishaps – the most noticeable amongst the bunch being the random fracturing of the children’s limbs – Flockhart’s Amy quickly learns of an extra resident on the premises.
Despite having her fears waved off by colleagues as the stuff of urban legend, a series of harrowing experiences quickly alerts Amy to the fact that something is lurking on the abandoned second floor of the hospital. Fragile’s slow burning brand of horror and confident stylistic choices are matched by genuine dread-filled scares, instances heightened by the constant whisperings of the “mechanical girl” who is terrorising Amy and the children under her care. The parallel of Flockhart’s insular haunted house tale and the sullen investigative hunt carried out by her precursor, Susan, is an engaging dynamic that mirrors chilling set pieces with spine-tingling exposition while constantly pushing the plot along at a gratifying pace.
The surprising paring of Flockhart and accomplished Spanish horror director, Jaume Balaguero (REC), have crafted a potent chronicle of asylum-esque horror, which with its striking environment building and creepy plotting, manages to reinvigorate one of the genre’s most overused tropes to summon a fraught descent into the physical and psychological vulnerability of children.