DVD Review: Fragile: A Ghost Story - ComicsOnline (2023)

by Amanda Sims, Reporter

Every couple has one: the partner who loves horror films.

In my marriage, I am not that partner. I’m the partner who watches a horror movie only after much cajoling and begging, and only if I’m allowed to watch through my fingers and with all the lights on.

But there’s something aboutHalloween that makes my husband’s battle a little easier. Around Halloween every year, I can’t help but give in. I watch as many horror movies as my husband can stand to put on, and sometimes I’ll even let him turn the lights off when the movie starts.

Sometimes I even get brave enough to watch a horror film on my own.

That’s what happened with Fragile: A Ghost Story at Halloween this past year.

Normally, as a mother, there’s just something about dead kids that gets me, something that I can’t handle about dead children or children in peril (and is actually a large part of why I can’t watch The Walking Dead – another thing my husband adores with complete and utter abandon. I love the bits I’ve seen, but I just can’t get past the children who are in danger, let alone the child Walkers). Normally, when I watch horror films on my own, I prefer those of the primarily psychological sort (I adore the first Saw – mostly for the twisted morality tale at its core – , and The Grudge is also one that never fails to make me skittish and jumpy for days afterward).

Fragile normally wouldn’t have even been on my shortlist of horror films to watch. It’s primarily about children in peril, after all (according to the blurb, it’s a story of a children’s hospital that is finally closing its doors after a century in operation, but the entire thing is endangered by a spirit the children call “the mechanical girl” – a spirit that holds an immense sway over the children and will “stop at nothing to keep them with her”). Even the pictures on the back of the jacket promise me nothing but children being constantly in danger. There was something in the blurb on the back of the DVD cover, though, that transcended even that normal “no-go” for me.

This movie isn’t just about children in danger or children dying, it’s about a child who needs help. Who needs to be released from torment.

This movie, I realized as I read the blurb a second time, has psychological thriller written all over it.

So, on nothing more than impulse and the hope that it would be a decent movie (it’s a Fangoria Frightfest production – I’ve long loved Fangoria magazine – and stars Calista Flockhart), I bought it and brought it home.

My children were at school, and this seemed like one of those days. One of those days where I’d be brave enough to maybe watch the movie on my own. (With the added benefit that, if the children-in-peril aspect of the movie proved overwhelming to me, I could easily hug my kids without fear of waking them – which might have been a large issue if I’d waited to watch Fragile after I’d put the kids to bed.)

So I settled in with a pizza and a Coke and got myself comfortable on the couch.

Though I did, admittedly, leave all the lights on.

All in all, I wasn’t disappointed.

That does come with a major caveat, however: I think labeling this as a horror film is really doing it a disservice. It’s more of a psychological drama, really [as I’m noticing tends to be the theme among Spanish horror films (the writer/director and most of the production staff are Spanish) – Korean and Japanese horror films are known for their hair-raising, blood-chilling ghost stories, and Spanish horror films tend to be more about the characters – about the people and the emotion and the story to be told by the characters, superimposed over some moments of terror]. And at that, it excels.

But, as I’d gone into this expecting a horror film, I was slightly disappointed by the continual set-up of classic horror film scares that were never fulfilled (the focus on a television set in the foreground when the only character in the shot is in the background, a swinging mirrored door that leaves enough room for a second figure to appear in the other pane, the straining, terse music at nearly silent, completely tense moments of the movie). In fact, the first true scare doesn’t come until nearly halfway through the film, and the classic horror movie aspects really only begin to appear within the last fifteen or twenty minutes (and even at that, they’re fairly limited).

Once the scares do start, though, the movie keeps you in suspense. For instance, there’s an entire second floor to the hospital that we don’t even begin to examine until after the first encounter with the classic horror bits. The set, if I do say so, was amazing and perfect. It’s a floor of the hospital that had been abandoned since 1959 (including cutting off the elevator access to it) and had never been cleared out, according to one of the characters. As the hospital is in the process of shutting down, that floor currently has no power, and it looked like something ripped right out of Silent Hill – another franchise that’s more about the psychological horrors and the what-might-happens than it is about true “horror” moments. I thought it was particularly brilliant.

From that point on, it’s a tense, high-stakes race to the end of the movie. The nature of “the mechanical girl” is finally uncovered (in a twist I never saw coming), and the reason for her attachment to the children is also finally understood. The ending ties things up nicely and neatly, even bringing in elements from earlier in the movie that seemed out of place, that seemed like poorly fitting puzzle pieces once characters began understanding the true nature of the mechanical girl. I, for one, appreciate nice, neat endings, and so really felt satisfied with the conclusion to which the story came.

Another thing I loved was the special effects. Digital special effects were really kept to a minimum, and in a genre that seems to be saturated in digital special effects (sometimes even to the detriment of the film), it felt amazingly refreshing to watch a horror film without them.

The special features on the disc are a little sparse. There’s a making of featurette wherein the writer/director talks at length about the inspiration for the film and what sort of story he was wanting to tell (he continually differentiated between telling a ghost story and telling a horror story, and that he wanted to do the former, not the latter), and we get to view a good chunk of the actual production process, including the selection of the building that would eventually become the hospital in the film and some behind-the-scenes creations of those fantastically real special effects. It is primarily in Spanish, but it is subtitled in English. There’s also a bit that’s five minutes or so in length titled “The Special Effects of Fragile”. I’d hoped they’d go into some depth about how they created some of the real-life effects that seemed trickier to me (an arm that we watch breaking in multiple places, a face we see appear under blankets – effects we had seen glimpses of in the Making of featurette and had proof were not digitally created), but this featurette talks solely about the digital effects. Again, it is in Spanish, but it is subtitled in English. Other than that, special features are a theatrical trailer from the movie and trailers for other Fangoria Frightfest films.

Overall, I did really enjoy this film, especially when I began to understand that it wasn’t actually a horror film but a psychological drama with horror elements. I enjoyed it enough, in fact, that I’ve told my husband I’ll watch it with him again tonight.

And maybe, this time, I’ll actually turn the lights off.

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ComicsOnline.com gives Fragile: A Ghost Story 2 screams out of 5.

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